The 74th Annual Tony Awards will not be taking place this Sunday, June 7, as originally planned, but their uplifting spirit is something we could all use a little of right now. The Tony Awards have been Broadway’s highest honor for decades and have had many meaningful moments. If you’ve always watched the show, but never learned the history — this timeline is for you!
1947: The American Theatre Wing hosts the first annual Tony Awards, which honor excellence in theatre. Named after Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer, and director of the American Theatre Wing, the first ceremony took place in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City on Easter Sunday. A total of 11 Tony Awards were given out to winners that included Arthur Miller, Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, and Agnes de Mille. Male winners were given a gold money clip, while female winners were given a makeup compact. Tickets were $7 and over 1,000 guests attended.
1948: Because of the previous year’s overwhelming success, the price for tickets for the Tony Awards rises nearly 50%, to $10.
1949: The designers’ union, United Scenic Artists, sponsors a contest for an official Tony Award. Herman Rosse submits the winning design: a disk-shaped medallion, which is still used today.
1954: Harry Belafonte becomes the first black man to win a Tony Award. He wins Best Featured Actor for his role in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.
1956: The Tony Awards are broadcast on local TV for the first time. Performers during the show included Joan Crawford, Carol Channing, Paul Newman, Anne Bancroft, Sidney Poitier, and more.
1967: The Wing invites The Broadway League (then-called the League of New York Theatres) to co-present the Tony Awards. This coincides with the first broadcast on network TV, enabling people all across the country to tune in to the Tony Awards for the first time. The show is one-hour long and took place at the Shubert Theatre, instead of in a ballroom.
1997: The Tony Awards moves from Broadway to Radio City Music Hall. Almost continuously since then the Tony Awards has taken place at either Radio City or the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side.
1998: Director Julie Taymor becomes the first woman to win the Tony Award in her field for her work directing Disney’s The Lion King.
2003: The Tony Awards becomes three hours long.
2013: Cyndi Lauper becomes the first woman to win Best Score (without a male co-writer) for the score to Kinky Boots.
2020: The Tony Awards are postponed (and likely cancelled outright) for the first time in history due to COVID-19.
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