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Biography

 
Deborrah Kaye Allen was born January 16th, 1950 in Houston, Texas, USA and is the youngest of four children born to orthodontist Andrew Arthur Allen Sr. (a Louisiana Creole who died in 1984), and African American Vivian (née Ayers) Allen, a Pulitzer-nominated poet and museum art director.
 
Debbie is an American actress, dancer, choreographer, singer, television director, television producer, author and a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
 
Debbie was 3 when she first started dancing and by the time she wa 4 knew what she wanted to be a performer.
Debbie's parents divorced in 1957 and in 1960 Debbie, her brothers Andrew (Tex) & Hugh and sister Phylicia lived in Mexico to escape US racism. Their mother Vivian Ayers decided to live there to give the Allen children a brief experience of not having to endure the chronic racism and segregation that was typical of Texas during the 1950s. From this, Debbie is fluent in Spanish. After 2 years the family returned to Texas.
 
At 16 she auditioned as a classical ballet student for the North Carolina School of the Arts. Her hopes soared when she was chosen to demonstrate technique for other prospective students; however, the judges rejected her application, saying that her body was "unsuited" for ballet--a criticism often used to impede black dancers. She was advised to pursue modern dance instead. A storyline that was later used in "Fame".
 
Debbie graduated from Jack Yates Senior High School in Houston, TX in 1967. She graduated cum laude from Howard University in 1971 with a BFA in Classical Greek Literature, Speech, and Theater from Howard University.
 
Debbie studied dance with Ballet Nacional and Ballet Folklorico (Mexico); Houston Ballet Foundation, Houston Texas; New York School of Ballet
 
Debbie married her first husband entertainment professional Win Wilford in 1975.
 
Debbie began her show business career on Broadway in the 1970s. Her debut in the chorus of Purlie and her performance in A Raisin In the Sun were noted by stage critics, and in a 1979 production of West Side Story her performance as Anita earned her a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award. 

Debbie's stage presence and choreography quickly moved her from the Broadway stage to the larger venue of television. Throughout the 1970s & early 80s she made guest appearances on popular programs such as Good Times, The Love Boat and The Jim Stafford Show. Her roles in the miniseries Roots: The Next Generation and the special, Ben Vereen--His Roots, allowed her to work with some of the most prominent African American performers in show business and to demonstrate her dramatic and comedic acting range. She also appeared in the short-lived 1977 NBC series 3 girls 3

Debbie's first big screen film was in "The Fish That Saved Pittsburg" which was followed by a small part in Alan Parker's 1980 mvoie "Fame". Originally the role was to be bigger but the film had already recorded so much footage Debbie's role ws cut. Her next feature film was called "Ragtime" and came in 1981" where she co-starred with Howard E. Rollins and James Cagney.

In 1981, a pilot for the "Fame" TV series was made and eventually picted up as a TV series which first aired in January 1982 where Debbie portrayed dance instructor, Lydia Grant, a role which brought the name Debbie Allen to international prominence. Although the NBC show was canceled after two seasons, the program went on to first-run syndication for four more years until 1987. Debbie was not only a singer and dancer on the show but was also the shows original choreographer. During her 6 seasons on the show Debbie became a director and co producer.  In fact Debbie became the first African American woman hired by a television network as a director in prime time television.

Fame's popularity in the U.K. prompted a special cast tour in England and spurred a "Famemania". Debbie directed, produced and staged the Fame concerts which where also performed in Europe and Israel.

As Debbie had relocated to Los Angeles to film "Fame" and her husband Win Wilford still lived in New York their relationship ended and they were divorced in 1983.

Debbie then met and married professional basketball player Norman Nixon in 1984. The couple are still togethr and have 2 children Vivian Nichole (born 1984) and Norman, Jr. (born 1987).

During the final season of "Fame" Debbie returned to Broadway as a star, and garnered her second Tony nomination, with a 1986-87 performance in Sweet Charity.

Also In 1986 Debbie played Richard Pryor's feisty wife in his semi-autobiographical film Jo-Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling.

In 1988, she choreographed "Carrie", a newly composed but short lived American musical, with the Royal Shakespeare Company which had a short run in Stratford Upon Avon, U.K. before transferring to Broadway.

In 1988,Debbie solidified her reputation as a television director and producer by turning a flawed television series, A Different World, into a long running popular program. Under her leadership the program addressed political issues such as apartheid, date rape, the war in the Persian Gulf, economic discrimination, and the 1992 Los Angeles riot. The highest rated episode focused on sexual maturity and AIDS and guest starred Whoopi Goldberg, who was nominated for an Emmy award. Allen was awarded the first Responsibility in Television award from the LA Film Teachers Association for consistently representing important social issues on A Different World.

In 1989, Debbie co-wrote, produced, directed, choreographed and starred in The Debbie Allen Special for ABC. She received two Emmy nominations, for direction and choreography of this variety show. She also released her first solo album "Special Look" in 1989. 

Also In 1989, Debbie made her debut as a director of made-for-television movies with a remake of the 1960 film, Pollyanna. The telefilm, titled Polly, starred two players from The Cosby Show, Phylicia Rashad and Keshia Knight Pullman.  Television critics hailed the display of Debbie's keen sense of innovative camera work, stemming from her ability to choreograph. The film is also notable for its all Black cast and for succeeding in a genre, the musical film, rarely popular on television. Debbie followed Polly with a sequel which aired in November 1990.

In 1990-91, Debbie directed the pilot and debut episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, on NBC. Also in 1990-91, she directed a highly rated episode of Quantum Leap in which she co-starred.

Also in 1991 Debbie became artistic director of the Academy Awards shows and for the next 10 years worked on the annual event.

In October 1991, Debbie received her star on the Hollywood walk of Fame for her achievements in television.

In 1992, Debbie produced and directed Stompin' at the Savoy for the CBS network.

In 1993 Debbie Directed the HBO special, Sinbad Live From the Paramount. 

In 1995 Debbie starred in the NBC situation comedy, In the House, where she played a newly divorced mother of two who shares her house with a former football star, played by rap artist L.L. Cool J.

Also on 1995 Debbie made her feature film directorial debut in "Out of Sync" in which Debbie also appeared along with LL Cool J, Victoria Dillard, and Yaphet Kotto.

In 1997 Debbie worked as producer on the Steven Speilberg directed feature film "Armistad" a tale of slaves who took over a slaveship and attempted to return to Africa only to be caught and tried for mutiny. The story of the Amistad and its crew came to the attention of Debbie in 1979 when she was visiting her father at Howard University and came across a book called Amistad I: Writings in Black History and Culture.

Debbie bought the film rights to a novelized story of the events, Black Mutiny and worked up a treatment of it for the screen. Between 1984 and 1989, Debbie shopped the story around to every movie studio and agent, but no one expressed any interest in the product. Finally she managed to persuade Speilberg and his Dreamworks film company to get involved and make the film.

  • In 1999 Debbie wrote and released her first novel "Brothers of the Knight" with Dial Books for Young Readers, 1999. A second book followed in 2000 titled "Dancing In The Wings"
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    In 2001, Allen was appointed by President George W. Bush as a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
     
  • Debbie Co-starred with sister Phylicia, directed and produced the PBS production of The Old Settler in 2001.
  • Also In 2001 she opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Culver City, California, and she used the academy to develop the show Pearl, for the Geffen Playhouse in association with the Kennedy Center in 2002.
     
    In 2002 Debbie Staged a production of Carmen Jones at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

    In 2003 Debbie was the creative source behind and co presenter of  the "Fame" reality TV series which lasted one season and Directed episodes of All of Us for Will Smith and Jad Pinkett.

    In 2004 Debbie helmed several episodes of Disney Channel's "That's So Raven".

    2005 and 2006 Debbie worked as a director on American sit comes "Girlfriends" and "Everyobody Hates Chris".

    Since 2007 Debbie has been a frequent guest judge on the FOX reality dance competition, "So You Think You Can Dance".

    In 2008 she directed the all-African-American Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring stage veterans James Earl Jones and her sister Phylicia Rashād. The production, with some roles recast moved to  London's West End in November 2009.

    In 2009 Debbie returned to "Fame" in a small role as the principal in the reinvention of the 80s classic movie.

    Also in 2009 Debbie created her first mucial "Oman O Man" which debuted at the Kennedy Centre.

    Debbie staged, choreographed and directed Mariah Carey's 2009 New Years Eve special concert in New York.
     
    In 2010 Debbie directed the musical "Twist" at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, which was her take on the Classic "Oliver Twist" setting the new production in America.
     
    Also In 2010 Debbie has created and directed her own musical "The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker", which is a re-telling of the Christmas classic "The Nutcracker." Debbie also features in this production. 

    As well as directing "Greys anatomy" Debbie returned to prime TV in 2011 playing the semi regular part of Catherine Avery on "Greys Anatomy".


     
     
    Additional information:
     
    For a full list of Debbie's credits click the link to go to the imdb database: