Audra McDonald is unparalleled in the breadth and versatility of her artistry as both a singer and an actor. The winner of a record-breaking six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards and an Emmy Award, in 2015 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and received the National Medal of Arts—America’s highest honor for achievement in the field—from President Barack Obama. Blessed with a luminous soprano and an incomparable gift for dramatic truth-telling, she is as much at home on Broadway and the opera stage as in her film and television roles. Alongside her theatrical work, she maintains a major career as a concert and recording artist, regularly appearing at the world’s foremost venues.
Born into a musical family, McDonald grew up in Fresno, California, and received her classical vocal training at New York’s Juilliard School. A year after graduating, she won her first Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Carousel at Lincoln Center Theater (1994). Over the next four years, she received two additional Tony Awards in the featured actress category for her performances in the Broadway premieres of Terrence McNally’s play Master Class (1996) and his musical Ragtime (1998), making an unprecedented total of three Tony Awards before the age of 30. In 2004 she won her fourth Tony, starring alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs in A Raisin in the Sun, and in 2012 she won her fifth—and her first in the leading actress category—for her title role performance in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. In 2014 she made Broadway history and became the Tony Awards’ most decorated performer when she won her sixth award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill—the role that also served as the vehicle for her Olivier Award-nominated 2017 debut in London’s West End. As well as setting the record for most competitive wins by an actor, she also became the first person to receive awards in all four acting categories. McDonald’s other theater credits include The Secret Garden (1993); Marie Christine (1999); Henry IV (2004); 110 in the Shade (2007); Twelfth Night (2009), which marked her Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park debut; Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (2016); Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (2019); and Ohio State Murders (2023).
McDonald made her opera debut in 2006 at Houston Grand Opera, where she starred in a double bill: the monodrama La voix humaine by Francis Poulenc and the world premiere of Send by Michael John LaChiusa. She made her Los Angeles Opera debut in 2007 starring alongside Patti LuPone in John Doyle’s production of Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The resulting recording won McDonald two Grammy Awards, for Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Album.
On the concert stage, McDonald has premiered music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams and has sung with virtually every major American orchestra—including the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony—under such conductors as Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen. She made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1998 with the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas in a season-opening concert that was broadcast live on PBS. Internationally, she has sung with the London Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, and at London’s Palladium and BBC Proms, where she was only the second American in more than 100 years to appear as a guest soloist at the Last Night of the Proms. In 2021, Vogue called her performance at the Met Gala “heart-stopping.”
It was the Peabody Award-winning CBS program Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years that first introduced McDonald to television audiences as a dramatic actor. She went on to co-star with Kathy Bates and Victor Garber in the lauded 1999 Disney/ABC television remake of Annie, and in 2000 she had a recurring role on NBC’s hit series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. After receiving her first Emmy nomination for her performance in the HBO film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Emma Thompson, McDonald returned to network television in 2003 in the political drama Mister Sterling, produced by Emmy Award winner Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. and starring Josh Brolin. In early 2006 she joined the cast of the WB’s The Bedford Diaries, and over the next season she had a recurring role on NBC’s television series Kidnapped. In 2008 she reprised her Tony-winning role in A Raisin in the Sun, in a made-for-television movie adaption that earned her a second Emmy Award nomination. From 2007 to 2011, she played Dr. Naomi Bennett on Shonda Rhimes’s hit ABC medical drama Private Practice. In 2013, her critically acclaimed performance as the Mother Abbess in NBC’s live telecast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, opposite Carrie Underwood as Maria, was watched by an estimated 18.5 million people across America. McDonald received a fourth Emmy nomination for her role in HBO’s film special of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill in 2016. She starred alongside Taylor Schilling and Steven Pasquale in The Bite, a six-episode pandemic-themed drama co-produced by Spectrum Originals and CBS Studios in 2021. Having first appeared as U.S. attorney Liz Lawrence in 2009, on CBS’s legal drama The Good Wife, in 2018 McDonald reprised the role (now named Liz Reddick) as a season regular of The Good Fight on Paramount+, receiving three Critics’ Choice Award nominations for her performance. She currently guest-stars in Julian Fellowes’s historical drama The Gilded Age on HBO.