Audra McDonald

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Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald (1).jpg
Audra McDonald, 2008
BornAudra Ann McDonald
(1970-07-03) July 3, 1970 (age 44)
Berlin, Germany
Years active1994–present
  • Peter Donovan (m. 2000div. 2009)
  • Will Swenson (m. 2012)
ChildrenZoe Donovan
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Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald (1).jpg
Audra McDonald, 2008
BornAudra Ann McDonald
(1970-07-03) July 3, 1970 (age 44)
Berlin, Germany
Years active1994–present
  • Peter Donovan (m. 2000div. 2009)
  • Will Swenson (m. 2012)
ChildrenZoe Donovan

Audra Ann McDonald (born July 3, 1970) is an American actress and singer. She has appeared on the stage in both musicals and dramas, such as Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, and Porgy and Bess. She maintains an active concert and recording career, performing song cycles and operas as well as performing in concert throughout the U.S. She has won six competitive Tony Awards, more than any other actor of either gender, and is the only person to win all four acting categories for either gender.[1] She also starred in the ABC television drama Private Practice as Dr. Naomi Bennett.

Early life and education[edit]

McDonald was born in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of American parents, Anna Kathryn, a university administrator, and Stanley McDonald, Jr., a high school principal.[2] At the time of her birth, her father was stationed with the U.S. Army. McDonald was raised in Fresno, California, the elder of two daughters. She began to study acting at a young age to counteract her diagnosis as "hyperactive". McDonald graduated from the Roosevelt School of the Arts program within Theodore Roosevelt High School in Fresno.[3] She got her start in acting with Dan Pessano and Good Company Players, beginning in their Junior Company. "I knew I wanted to be involved in theater when I had my first chance to perform with the Good Company Players Junior Company." "The people who have had the most impact on my life: Good Company director Dan Pessano and my mother."[4] She studied classical voice as an undergraduate under Ellen Faull at the Juilliard School,[5] graduating in 1993.[6]



McDonald was a three-time Tony Award winner by age 28 for her performances in Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime, placing her alongside Shirley Booth, Gwen Verdon and Zero Mostel by accomplishing this feat within five years. She was nominated for another Tony Award for her performance in Marie Christine before she won her fourth in 2004 for her role in A Raisin in the Sun, placing her in the company of then four-time winning actress Angela Lansbury. She reprised her Raisin role for a 2008 television adaptation, earning her a second Emmy Award nomination. On June 10, 2012, McDonald scored her fifth Tony Award win for her portrayal of Bess in Broadway's The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, thus tying Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris.[7] Her 2014 performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill earned McDonald her sixth Tony award and made her the first actor to win all four acting categories.

McDonald appeared as Lizzie in the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2007 revival of 110 in the Shade, directed by Lonny Price at Studio 54, for which she shared the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Musical with Donna Murphy.[8] On April 29, 2007, while she was in previews for the show, her father was killed when an experimental aircraft he was flying crashed north of Sacramento, California.[9]

McDonald appeared in a revised version of Porgy and Bess, at the Loeb Drama Center (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) from August through September 2011, and recreated the role on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which opened on January 12, 2012 and closed on September 23, 2012.[10] For this role, McDonald won her fifth Tony Award and her first in a Leading Actress category.[11] This American Repertory Theater production was "re-imagined by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre Murray as a musical for contemporary audiences."[12]

McDonald is playing Billie Holiday on Broadway in the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill in a limited engagement scheduled to end on August 10, 2014.[13] After previews that began on March 25, 2014, the play opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre on April 13, 2014.[13] Of the play, McDonald said in an interview:

It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly...I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her — and what is fascinating in this show — is that there is never any self-pity. She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music — she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.[13]

McDonald won the Tony Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for this role, making her the first person to ever earn six Tony Award wins for acting (not counting honorary awards) and the first person to win a Tony Award in all four acting categories. [14] In her acceptance speech, "she thanked her parents for encouraging her to pursue her interests as a child."[15] She also thanked the "strong and brave and courageous" African-American women who came before her, saying in part, "I am standing on Lena Horne's shoulders. I am standing on Maya Angelou's shoulders. I am standing on Diahann Carroll and Ruby Dee, and most of all, Billie Holiday. You deserved so much more than you were given when you were on this planet. This is for you Billie." [16]

In February 2014, it was reported that McDonald might star as Jessie alongside Oprah Winfrey in a Broadway revival of 'Night Mother. George C. Wolfe is linked to direct and the production would play an unnamed theater during the 2015-2016 season.[17]

Recordings and concerts[edit]

Audra McDonald performing at the Wright Center in in 2011

McDonald has maintained ties to her classical training and repertoire. She frequently performs in concert throughout the U.S.[18] and has performed with musical organizations such as the New York Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Carnegie Hall commissioned the song cycle The Seven Deadly Sins: A Song Cycle for McDonald, and she performed it at Carnegie's Zankel Hall on June 2, 2004.[19] She sang two solo one-act operas at the Houston Grand Opera in March 2006- Francis Poulenc's La Voix Humaine and the world premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's Send (who are you? I love you).[20] On February 10, 2007, McDonald starred with Patti LuPone in the Los Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny directed by John Doyle.[21] The recording of the Los Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, featuring McDonald and Patti LuPone, won two Grammy Awards, for Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Album in February 2009.[22]

In September 2008, American composer Michael John LaChiusa was quoted in Opera News Online, as working on an adaptation of Bizet's Carmen with McDonald in mind.[23]

McDonald has recorded five solo albums for Nonesuch Records. Her first, the 1998 Way Back to Paradise, featured songs written by a new generation of musical theatre composers who had achieved varying degrees of prominence in the 1990s, particularly LaChiusa, Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown.

Her next album, How Glory Goes (2000), combined both old and new works, and included composers Harold Arlen, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Kern.[5] Her third album, Happy Songs (2002), was big band music from the 1920s through the '40s.[24] Her fourth album, Build a Bridge (2006), features songs from jazz and pop.[25]

In May 2013, Audra McDonald released her first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home, with a title track from the Kander & Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys. To coincide with the album's release, McDonald performed a concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City that aired on the PBS series Live from Lincoln Center titled Audra McDonald In Concert: Go Back Home.[26]

At the 2010 BCS National Championship Game on January 7, McDonald sang America the Beautiful for the sold-out stadium fans to celebrate the final game of the college football season.[27]

In May 2000, Audra McDonald appeared as "The Beggar Woman" in Lonny Price's concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, performed at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, New York with the New York Philharmonic with George Hearn and Patti LuPone. She reprised the role in some performances of the March 2014 Lincoln Center concert production, again directed by Price, this time opposite Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson.

Television and film[edit]

McDonald has also made many television appearances, both musical and dramatic. In 2001, she received her first Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie for the HBO film Wit, starring Emma Thompson and directed by Mike Nichols.[28] She also has appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street (1999), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2000), Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (1999), the short-lived Mister Sterling (2003), The Bedford Diaries (2006), and Kidnapped (2006–2007), and in the 1999 television remake of Annie as Daddy Warbucks' secretary & soon-to-be wife, Miss Farrell.[29] She sang with the New York Philharmonic in the annual New Year's Eve gala concert on December 31, 2006, featuring music from the movies; it was televised on Live from Lincoln Center by PBS.[30] In 2013, she appeared in the HBO documentary Six by Sondheim.[31]

McDonald appeared as Naomi Bennett in Private Practice, a spinoff of Grey's Anatomy. She replaced Merrin Dungey, who played the role in the series pilot.[32] McDonald left Private Practice at the end of season four.[33][34]

In films, McDonald has appeared in Best Thief in the World (2004), It Runs in the Family (2003), Cradle Will Rock (1999), The Object of My Affection (1998), and Seven Servants by Daryush Shokof which was her film acting debut in (1996).[29]

McDonald played Mother Abbess in the 2013 NBC live television production of The Sound of Music Live!.[35][36]

Personal life[edit]

McDonald married bassist Peter Donovan in September 2000.[5] They have one daughter, Zoe, named after McDonald's close friend Zoe Caldwell. McDonald and Donovan divorced in 2009.[37] She married Will Swenson on October 6, 2012.[38]



Solo recordings[39][edit]

Featured Recordings[edit]


Cast recordings[edit]

Video recordings[edit]

Audio books[edit]

Feature films[edit]

1996Seven Servants
1998The Object of My AffectionWedding Singer
1999Cradle Will RockBlitzstein - 'Joe Worker' Singer
2001WitSusie Monahan
2003It Runs in the FamilySarah Langley
2004The Best Thief in the WorldRuth



1999AnnieMiss Grace FarrellTV movie
Homicide: Life on the StreetTeresa GiardelloEpisode: "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 YearsBessie in her 20sTV movie
2000Law & Order: Special Victims UnitAudrey JacksonMultiple Guest Arc
- "Contact"
- "Slaves"
The Last DebateBarbara ManningTV movie
2001WitSusie MonahanNominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress - Miniseries or a Movie
2003Mister SterlingJackie Brock9 episodes
Partners and CrimeUnknownTV movie
Tea Time with Roy & SylviaSylviaShort
2005Live from Lincoln CenterClaraEpisode: "Passion"
2006The Bedford DiariesProfessor Carla Bonatelle8 episodes
2006–07KidnappedJackie HayesMultiple Guest Arc
- "Pilot"
- "Number One with a Bullet"
- "Front Page"
2007Great PerformancesJenny SmithEpisode: "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny"
2008A Raisin in the SunRuth YoungerNominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie or Mini-Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress - Miniseries or a Movie
2009Grey's AnatomyDr. Naomi BennettEpisode: "Before and After"
She Got ProblemsHerselfShort
2007–2013Private PracticeDr. Naomi Bennett77 episodes
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2008-2010)
2013The Good WifeLiz LawrenceEpisode: "Runnin' with the Devil"
The Sound of Music Live!Mother AbbessLive telecast



1992The Secret GardenAyah (replacement)St. James Theatre
1992 – January 3, 1993
1994CarouselCarrie PipperidgeVivian Beaumont Theater
March 24, 1994 – January 15, 1995
1995Something WonderfulPerformerGeorge Gershwin Theatre
July 12, 1995
1995Master ClassSharon GrahamJohn Golden Theatre
November 5, 1995 – June 29, 1997
1998RagtimeSarahFord Center for the Performing Arts
January 18, 1998 – January 16, 2000
1999Marie ChristineMarie Christine L'AdreseVivian Beaumont Theater
December 2, 1999 – January 9, 2000
2003Henry IVLady PercyVivian Beaumont Theater
November 20, 2003 – January 18, 2004
2004A Raisin in the SunRuth YoungerRoyale Theatre
April 26, 2004 – July 11, 2004
2007110 in the ShadeLizzie CurryStudio 54
May 9, 2007 – July 29, 2007
2009Twelfth NightOliviaDelacorte Theater
June 25, 2009 – July 12, 2009
2012Porgy and BessBessRichard Rodgers Theatre
January 12, 2012 – September 23, 2012
2014Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and GrillBillie HolidayCircle in the Square
April 13, 2014 - August 10th, 2014

Awards and nominations[edit]


YearAwardCategoryNominated WorkResult
1994Tony AwardBest Performance by a Featured Actress in a MusicalCarouselWon
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Featured Actress in a MusicalWon
Theatre World AwardWon
Outer Critics Circle AwardOutstanding Featured Actress in a MusicalWon
1996Tony AwardBest Performance by a Featured Actress in a PlayMaster ClassWon
Ovation AwardBest Featured Actress in a PlayWon
1998Tony AwardBest Performance by a Featured Actress in a MusicalRagtimeWon
Drama League AwardDistinguished PerformanceNominated
Outer Critics Circle AwardOutstanding Featured Actress in a MusicalNominated
2000Tony AwardBest Performance by a Leading Actress in a MusicalMarie ChristineNominated
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Actress in a MusicalNominated
2001NAACP Image AwardOutstanding Variety - Series or SpecialAudra McDonald in ConcertNominated
2004Tony AwardBest Performance by a Featured Actress in a PlayA Raisin in the SunWon
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Featured Actress in a PlayWon
Drama League AwardDistinguished PerformanceNominated
Outer Critics Circle AwardOutstanding Featured Actress in a PlayWon
2005Emmis Communications/Hot-97 "KISS-FM" Phenomenal Woman AwardPhenomenal Woman[54]Won
2007Tony AwardBest Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical110 in the ShadeNominated
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Actress in a MusicalWon
Drama League AwardDistinguished PerformanceNominated
Outer Critics Circle AwardOutstanding Actress in a MusicalWon
2008Grammy AwardBest Classical AlbumLos Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of MahagonnyWon
Best Opera RecordingWon
2012Tony AwardBest Performance by a Leading Actress in a MusicalPorgy and BessWon
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Actress in a MusicalWon
Drama League AwardDistinguished PerformanceWon
Outer Critics Circle AwardOutstanding Actress in a MusicalWon
2013Sarah Siddons Society AwardDistinguished Achievement in the TheatreWon
2014Tony AwardBest Performance by a Leading Actress in a PlayLady Day at Emerson's Bar and GrillWon
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Actress in a PlayWon
Outer Critics Circle AwardOutstanding Actress in a MusicalWon


  1. ^ "Tony Awards Facts & Trivia". Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Audra - Living Her Dream". The Fresno Bee. January 15, 1989. Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  4. ^ "Audra McDonald's a tough act to follow in "Evita"". The Fresno Bee. December 5, 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-09. 
  5. ^ a b c Green, Blake. "Never Short of Breath", (originally in the San Francisco Chronicle), July 16, 2000
  6. ^ "Alumni News: November 2011". Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. "Audra McDonald (BM ’93, voice)" 
  7. ^ Gans, Andrew. Chenoweth, Dench, Linney, McDonald, Rashad Nominated for Emmy Awards",, July 17, 2008
  8. ^ Gans, Andrew. " 'Utopia' and 'Spring Awakening' Win Top Honors at Drama Desk Awards",, May 21, 2007
  9. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Stanley McDonald Jr., Father of Tony-Winner Audra McDonald, Dies in Air Crash",, April 30, 2007
  10. ^ "Porgy and Bess on Playbill Vault".
  11. ^ Jones, Kenneth and Hetrick, Adam. 2012 "Tony Awards Nominations Announced; 'Once' Earns 11 Nominations"., May 1, 2012
  12. ^ Gans, Andrew and Hetrick, Adam. "Norm Lewis-Audra McDonald 'Porgy and Bess' Will Play Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre", June 29, 2011
  13. ^ a b c "Audra McDonald to Return to Broadway as Billie Holiday". Retrieved March 9, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Audra Mcdonald Nets a Record Sixth Win", June 9, 2014
  15. ^ Purcell, Carey. " 'Gent's Guide', 'All The Way', 'Hedwig And the Angry Inch', 'Raisin in the Sun' Win Top Prizes at 68th Annual Tony Awards", June 8, 2014
  16. ^ "Audra McDonald Wins 6th Tony Award Makes Broadway History", June 8, 2014
  17. ^ Gioia, Michael. "Will Oprah Winfrey Make Broadway Debut Opposite Audra McDonald in 'night, Mother?; 'Color Purple' Revival in the Works", February 6, 2014
  18. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Audra McDonald to Offer Concerts Throughout U.S.",, April 8, 2008
  19. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Audra McDonald Premieres The Seven Deadly Sins June 2 at Zankel Hall",, June 2, 2004
  20. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Audra McDonald to Debut New LaChiusa Piece at Houston Grand Opera",, July 26, 2005
  21. ^ Simonson, Robert and Gans, Andrew. "Doyle to Direct LuPone and McDonald in 'Mahagonny' ",, January 16, 2006
  22. ^ Gans, Andrew. "In the Heights Cast Recording Wins Grammy; Hudson and LuPone-McDonald "Mahagonny" Also Win",, February 8, 2009
  23. ^ Portantiere, Michael (September 2008). "Over the Borderline". Opera News Online 73 (3). Archived from the original on September 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  24. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Audra McDonald Sings Composers of Today and Future at Joe's Pub",, May 22, 2002
  25. ^ Suskin, Steven. "On The Record: A Complete Cabaret With Judi Dench, and Audra McDonald's "Build a Bridge",, November 12, 2006
  26. ^ Hetrick, Adam (April 9, 2013). "Audra McDonald's New Album, "Go Back Home" Sets May Release; PBS Concert Will Follow". Playbill. 
  27. ^ Moon, Josh. "Alabama wins 13th national championship", January 8, 2010
  28. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Emmy Noms Go to 'Wit,' 'South Pacific,' 'Laughter on the 23rd Floor' and More", July 12, 2001
  29. ^ a b c Audra McDonald credits at the Internet Movie database, accessed August 15, 2009
  30. ^ Gans, Andrew. "PBS to Broadcast Audra McDonald's New Year's Eve Concert",, November 29, 2006
  31. ^ ""Six By Sondheim" Doc, With Performances by Audra McDonald, Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan, Debuts on HBO Dec. 9". Retrieved March 21, 2014. 
  32. ^ Buckley, Michael (24 September 2007). "Stage to Screens: Audra McDonald, Kenneth Branagh, Craig Wright, Jill Clayburgh". Playbill. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  33. ^ "Audra McDonald to Exit Private Practice". TV Guide. Retrieved February 9, 2011. 
  34. ^ Gans, Andrew (9 February 2011). "Audra McDonald Departing ABC's Private Practice". Playbill. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  35. ^ Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle Join Cast of NBC's Sound of Music Playbill, Retrieved September 16, 2013
  36. ^ 'Sound of Music Live!' with Carrie Underwood: NBC announces more cast, releases poster Entertainment Weekly, Retrieved September 16, 2013
  37. ^ "McDonald Sets Record Straight". BroadwayWorld News Desk. June 3, 2009. 
  38. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Audra McDonald and Will Swenson Get Married", October 7, 2012
  39. ^ McDonald record listing, retrieved January 8, 2010
  40. ^ Way Back to Paradise listing, retrieved January 8, 2010
  41. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Audra McDonald's 'How Glory Goes' Released in Stores Feb. 22", February 10, 2000
  42. ^ McDonald listing, retrieved January 8, 2010
  43. ^ "Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square: Featuring Audra McDonald and Peter Graves", retrieved January 8, 2010
  44. ^ Jule Styne in Hollywood listing, retrieved January 8, 2010
  45. ^ The Wonder of Christmas, retrieved January 8, 2010
  46. ^ "I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky", listing, accessed August 15, 2009
  47. ^ Suskin, Steven. "ON THE RECORD: Dazzling Dreamgirls and 1943 Show Tunes",, March 10, 2002
  48. ^ Hetrick, Adam and Gans, Andrew. "Complete Allegro Recording, with McDonald, Gunn and Wilson, to Arrive In Stores Feb. 3",, December 8, 2008
  49. ^
  50. ^ Getting There from Here: Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story, accessed August 15, 2009
  51. ^ McDonald Broadway credits, retrieved January 8, 2010
  52. ^ Awards and nominations, theatre, retrieved January 8, 2010
  53. ^ Awards and nominations, TV, retrieved January 8, 2010
  54. ^ 98.7 KISS-FM (7 April 2005). "Emmis communications/98.7 KISS-FM celebrated Women's History Month by introducing its first annual salute to Phenomenal Women". Press Release (Emmis Communications). 

External links[edit]