Peaceful 06

Lynda (Bradley) Gravatt

1947 ~ 2024 (age 76) 76 Years Old

Lynda Gravatt Obituary

Lynda Gravátt, a three-time AUDELCO Award winner (2003, 2004 and 2007), and winner of the Helen Hayes Award (2004); died Friday, February 23, in New Brunswick. She was 76.

Ms. Gravátt's career spanned nearly 70 years. She first appeared on Broadway in The King and I at age 4, and last appeared as Big Mama in the 2018 revival of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. In between, she mentored generations of aspiring actors, including Dave Chappelle, worked as a director, and was a founding faculty member of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, the premier arts high school in the nation’s capitol.

In his Netflix special, “What’s in a Name?” Chappelle remembers “Miss Gravátt,” as the students at Ellington called her. “She was very businesslike but also warm; she was very intimidating but also palpably kind. She was a paradox of a human being.”

She was less a paradox than a synthesis of what it takes to be a black woman making a living as an actor in the United States. Lynda was trained in the Bible and in Shakespeare; in African dance as well as tap and ballet. She performed a one woman show about Senator Barbara Jordan, and played Lena, the matriarch of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” nearly half a dozen times – each time a different incarnation. She once told a reporter that she harkened back to her days as a volunteer for SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, every time she encountered Lena. “People were being harmed, people were being tortured,” she said. “It’s something that’s stayed with me all my life.”

Lynda was, above all, a race woman, a Black woman, who dedicated her life and her art to uplifting the humanity of Black people. Each character she portrayed carried herself with dignity and intelligence.

Most recently, she had recurring roles on Apple TV’s Dear Edward, Hulu’s Ramy, Showtime’s The Hoop Life, and the CBS police drama “East New York.” She also appeared on “Madame Secretary.” Her additional Broadway appearances included 45 Seconds From Broadway, King Hedley II (an Audelco nomination), and Doubt.

Film credits include Roman J. Israel, Esq., Bounty Hunter, Delivery Man, and Violet and Daisy. She was also a dancer in the film version of The Wiz.

Lynda deeply engaged herself in the crafting of roles for new productions. She workshopped Stephanie Berry’s “A Walk in Yaya’s Garden.” at New Perspectives. She originated the role of Mrs. Dixon in Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, and won an Audelco Award. In Regina Taylor’s Crowns, she originated the role of Mabel, and won both the Helen Hayes and an Audelco Award. She also originated the role of Faye in Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” (Drama League Award nomination), and one of the Shylocks in Merchant of Venice.

Her talent and gravitas made her a memorable presence on screen. She was often pegged to play the judge, as she did in The Bounty Hunter and Delivery Man; and on the small screen, she appeared as a rotating series of characters (including a judge) in all three of the Law and Order series. She played “Denzel Washington’s ‘wife,’” Vernita Wells, in Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Besides Skeleton Crew, her other Off-Broadway work included: Marcus Gardley’s The House that Will Not Stand, The Revolving Cycles Merrily and Steadily Roll’d, 20th Century Blues, The Hummingbird’s Tour, The Little Foxes, Zooman and the Sign ( for which she won an Audelco Award), Dividing the Estate, If Memory Serves, and The Old Settler (Theatre World Award). She was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actors Equity.

Lynda Gravátt was raised Linda Bradley, by her adoptive parents, Fontaine and David Bradley of Queens, N.Y. Her biological father, the comic tap dancer and comedian, James “Stump” Cross, and his girlfriend Margie, surrendered her as a baby. Her aunt, Sylvia B. White, affectionately known as Aunt Bert, and her grandmother, Juanita Peyton, were strong influences in her upbringing. She attended Fairmont Heights High School, graduated with a BFA from Howard University in 1971, and earned an MFA in directing from George Washington University about ten years later.

It was while in Washington, D.C. that she began migrating away from dance towards theater work. As a student of the legendary professors, Owen Dodson, Paul Carter Harrison, Eleanor Traylor and Vera Katz, at Howard, she began developing her voice. She helped found Robert Alexander’s first company, Living Stage/Arena Stage, in 1969. It was the beginning of the Black Arts Movement, and Lynda became steeped in a creative environment that emphasized classical training, improvisation, and black consciousness.The DC Black Repertory Theater was just getting started. There, she developed lifelong friendships as she worked with directors Kenneth Daughtery, Mike Malone, Glenda Dickerson, and ballet master Charles Auggins through Malone’s Street Theater program, “Workshops for Careers in the Arts;” worked with poet and playwright Owen Dodson; and performed in a series of experimental productions exploring Blackness at Paul Allen’s Black American Theater.

Lynda also worked with a group of talented peers, many of whom would go on to develop August Wilson’s cycle of plays. They included actors Charles Brown and Petronia Paley, directors Seret Scott, Reuben Santiago-Hudson and Clinton Turner Davis, and playwright Richard Wesley. She got to know Wilson’s work quite well, and often chided him for not writing stronger female parts. Whether this resulted in the role of Rose in Fences, we will never know.

The black theater movement in DC, specifically ultimately led to the creation of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a magnet high school created by educators and Black Arts advocates Peggy Cooper-Cafritz and Mike Malone. Lynda joined as a founding faculty member of the Ellington School in 1974, and became a lynchpin until she left to jumpstart her stage career.

As a director, Lynda shepherded many new productions at New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater. Her last Crossroads production, “Chicken and Biscuits” ran in December, 2022. She directed Ruby Dee's one woman show, My One Good Nerve in the Genesis Festival. Her acting credits at Crossroads include Dee’s adaptation of Rosa Guy's novel, The Disappearance, The Amen Corner, Young, Gifted and Black; and Home.

Lynda Gravátt is the Grande Diva of D. I. V. A., Inc., a society for women in the arts, founded at Howard University in 1983, and its fellow organization, the beloved D. I. V. A. Brothers. Among the six women founders is Harriett D. Foy, one of her most cherished mentees.

For the last 33 years, she has been the partner of dramaturg Sydne Mahone.

Lynda is survived by Sydne, and her sons, Oge and David, and their wives, Monique, and Dr. Heather Platt. She has five grandchildren: Ishmael, Ishana, Isabella, Josephine and Lucas. She also leaves a sister, Lee Hooper; a niece, Holly Hooper; and cousins, Mary “Bootsie” Andrade, Tony, Diane, Randy, Jr and Sean Peyton; and a half-sister, June Cross. She will be deeply missed by her two closest friends, Rosalyn “Rusty” Baylor and Alice Roper Richardson; and by the many friends and students who basked in the warmth of her sun.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to The Lynda Gravátt Legacy Fund at Howard University which will be established in the near future. More details to come..




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Gathering of Family and Friends
March 11, 2024

11:00 AM
The Riverside Church
490 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10027

Please note
Monday, March 11th 10:00am Family gathers in Christ Chapel with Her Urn 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Public Memorial Service begins in The Nave with Her Urn

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