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Dede Ayite Makes History as First Black Woman to Win Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play

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In a groundbreaking moment at the 2024 Tony Awards, Dede Ayite has become the first Black woman to win the Tony for Best Costume Design of a Play. Ayite was honored for her exceptional work on the now-closed show “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding,” a production that captured the vibrant spirit and struggles of a Harlem salon run by West African immigrant hair braiders.

“Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” opened in October 2023 and, despite its brief run, left a lasting impact with its powerful narrative and great visual presentation. The play, written by Ghanaian-American Jocelyn Bioh, tells the story of a Harlem salon where the art of hair braiding becomes a symbol of identity and resilience amidst the uncertainties faced by the community.

Ayite’s win at the Tonys was part of a celebrated night where the play was nominated for five awards. In her acceptance speech, Ayite, who was also nominated in the same category for her work on “Appropriate” and for Best Costume Design of a Musical for “Hell’s Kitchen,” expressed deep gratitude. She thanked her family, including her brother who cheered her on from Ghana, and her collaborators. Ayite also acknowledged Bioh, “who wrote such a beautiful piece,” and the various costume shops and makers, saying, “without them I would not be here and the show would not look as amazing as it does.”

When speaking to the press, Ayite reflected on the significance of her win, calling it “huge.” She shared a message of hope and perseverance: “People like me that are just starting out and aren’t sure and are fearful and just don’t know what it’s going to take, and you don’t know how to find that step to take you forward, so I’m just hopeful that this moment says, ‘Just keep at it.’ You know, tell the stories that matter to you, tell the story that you find value in, and the moment will meet you. That’s what’s happening for me right now.”

Ayite emphasized that her achievement was a collective victory, saying, “It’s not just about me, but we did it: the community that supports me, the community of people that love me each day and cheer me on. For me, I just feel like it’s not just about me right now. It’s the community. It’s that we have done it together.” She represents the many Africans striving for achievement in the diaspora.

Dede Ayite’s historic win at the 2024 Tony Awards stands as an inspiration, celebrating not only her talent and dedication but also the power of community and perseverance in the face of challenges.

Ivy Prosper

Digital Creator, Writer, Producer, Speaker