Actor Vinie Burrows, known for several Broadway productions as well as her work as an activist, has died at the age of 99. Ms. Burrows passed away peacefully and surrounded by family on Christmas Day, according to her press rep. Once proclaimed "the queen of Black theatre" by The New York Times, Ms. Burrows had an illustrious career and created progressive change both onstage and off.
Ms. Burrows grew up in New York and started her career as a child actor working in radio. She attended New York University, where she received her Bachelor's and Master's degree, and was recently awarded an honorary PhD from The New School.
Ms. Burrows made her Broadway debut in 1950 in The Wisteria Trees. She would go on to appear in the 1955 Broadway run of The Skin of Our Teeth, where she performed alongside Helen Hayes, Mary Martin, and George Abbott. Ms. Burrows' numerous Broadway credits also include The Green Pastures, Mrs. Patterson, The Ponder Heart, and Mandingo.
Later in her career, Ms. Burrows began to create her own theatrical works, mounting several solo shows. Her 1968 Off-Broadway production of Walk Together Children broke all records to become the longest-running Off-Broadway one woman show at the time. Ms. Burrows' other one woman shows include Dark Fire and Sister! Sister!
"As a Black actress whose talents have never been fully used in our theatre, I have turned to solo performances not merely to find employment but also to gain a greater measure of artistic fulfillment and personal satisfaction," Ms. Burrows said of her solo works. "In creating the six different programs in my solo repertoire, I have tapped a rich vein from my own Black culture and heritage."
Ms. Burrows continued her acting career into her 90s, appearing in Off-Broadway and regional productions including Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 years at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Shakespeare in the Park's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and New York Theatre Workshop's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. At the time of her death, she was in development for The TEAM's production of Reconstructing. She received an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2020.
Throughout her life, Ms. Burrows worked diligently as an activist. She was involved in advancing several political and social causes through her positions as a United Nations NGO and a member of Grannies' Peace Brigade, as well as her work during the Civil Rights movement. She was also vice president for Women for Racial and Economic Equality.
Ms. Burrows is survived by her son and daughter, six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.
"The biggest role that we have in life is the role that we play in life," Ms. Burrows told American Theatre in a recent interview. "That is the biggest role and the most important." When asked what she would want to be remembered for, Ms. Burrows responded, "Her passion for the truth and justice. That’s it."