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The Forum

2021 Leadership Reinvented

Debbie Allen

Award-winning, Multi-disciplinary Artist, Choreographer and Actress

Debbie Allen, an award-winning producer, director, writer, actor and choreographer, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has choreographed the Academy Awards® a record 10 times. She has also directed and choreographed for legendary artists, including Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Gwen Verdon, Carmen de Lavallade, Diane Carroll, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dolly Parton and Savion Glover.

Allen received the Golden Globe for her role as Lydia Grant in the 1980s hit series Fame; the Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story; and is a three-time Emmy Award® winner in Choreography for Fame and The Motown 25th. She was awarded 10 Image Awards as director, actress, choreographer and producer for Fame, A Different World, Motown 25th, The Academy Awards, The Debbie Allen Special and Amistad. She has also directed the best that network TV offers, including Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Jane The Virgin, Empire, and Insecure.

Earlier this year, she was named a 2020 Kennedy Center Honoree, our nation's Highest Artistic Award. Allen served as emcee of the 10th Anniversary of National Dance Day, which was part of the Center’s REACH Opening Festival in September of 2019. Additionally, her multidisciplinary production Freeze Frame…Stop the Madness received its East Coast premiere at the Center in 2016. She has a long and robust history as Artist-in-Residence with the Center, creating more than eight productions for young audiences. She has also been a member of the Artists committee for Kennedy Center Honors for a number of years.

She currently serves as Executive Producing Director of Grey’s Anatomy, where she recurs as Dr. Catherine Fox. Her recent Shondaland produced Documentary, Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, on Netflix tells a true story of what she does to enlighten, inspire and engage young people around the world through dance and theatre arts.

She received her BFA in Theater and Classical Greek Studies from Howard University and holds four honorary doctorate degrees. She is the daughter of poet Vivian Ayers and Dr. Andrew Allen; sister to Phylicia Rashad, Andrew “Tex” Allen and Hugh Allen; wife to NBA All-Star Norman Nixon; mother of Vivian and Thump; and grandmother of Shiloh and Aviah.