The 6 ways actress-singer Audra McDonald dazzles us on stage and off

Audra McDonald, performing here with the Fresno Grand Opera Orchestra in 2011, has won six Tony Awards, which is more than any other performer.
Audra McDonald, performing here with the Fresno Grand Opera Orchestra in 2011, has won six Tony Awards, which is more than any other performer. Fresno Bee

It’s hard to comprehend what Audra McDonald has accomplished in her career, and she seems like she’s only getting started.

The charismatic entertainer, who has starred in a number of Broadway hits, including “Ragtime and Master Class,” has won six Tony Awards, which is more than any other performer. Three of them were won by the age of 28. She’s also snagged two Grammy Awards and an Emmy.

McDonald has two concerts scheduled Jan. 20 and 21 at UNC’s Memorial Hall, which is why we’re taking note of the six reasons we’re very impressed with McDonald’s accomplishments.

1. McDonald, 47, is the only performer to win a Tony in four different acting categories in both plays and musicals.

“I have a pretty hard time comprehending it,” McDonald told The News & Observer during an interview in 2015. “When you’re in a show, your mind is on the show and you’re living another life on stage. Then the Tonys come, it happens, and then it’s gone. But when I accumulate it all, it feels like a big, fantastic blur. The biggest memories I have of the Tonys are the emotions of how it all felt. And at the end of it, you still have to go on with your daily life.”

2. McDonald’s career has always been packed with vocational challenges.

While known for her stage work, she scored acclaim for her work in the ABC drama “Private Practice” from 2007-11.

“That was a challenge,” McDonald said in 2015. “But I’m always up for challenges. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I did the same thing every day. I always need another outlet.”

She’s set to appear this year on the second season of “The Good Fight,” the spinoff of CBS’ “The Good Wife.”

3. She added two Grammys to her collection of awards in 2008.

McDonald’s recording of Kurt Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany” with the Los Angeles Opera won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Album and the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.

“I love to sing,” McDonald has said. “It’s another way I express myself.”

McDonald, a soprano, tours as much as she can. “It can be exhausting, but very refreshing,” McDonald said before she came to the Triangle to perform.

“Sometimes on a concert tour I can roll into a city grumpy and tired, but then I get on stage and the audience cheers me up,” she said. “I have a good time. I really enjoy concerts because they keep you honest as a performer. When you’re doing a concert, there’s no place to hide. No characters, no costumes. It’s just you, the audience and the material.”

4. Her role as Billie Holiday on Broadway’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” helped her set her Tony record.

She won her sixth award – Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play – for her portrayal of Billie Holiday.

“I was initially nervous to play Billie Holiday because she is such a historic character and there is so much video of her,” McDonald said. “She’s famous for her voice and iconic sound. My biggest challenge was making sure that no part of my voice made its way onto the stage, so it was really rewarding when I found her voice.”

Most recently, she starred in “Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed” on Broadway. The production was nominated for 10 Tonys, and many say McDonald was snubbed.

5. She may be on her way to an EGOT (an Oscar remains to be won), but she’s humble.

“I come from a really musical family and everybody in my family sings,” McDonald said. “So I don’t remember not singing. It’s funny, because I seriously don’t have the most remarkable voice in my family. There are major singers in my family, gorgeous voices.

“Maybe I’m the one who decided to do it professionally, but my voice isn’t all that special if you compare it to all the other voices in my family.”

Obama Arts Medals(2)
President Barack Obama awards actress and singer, Audra McDonald, the 2015 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in 2016 in Washington. Carolyn Kaster AP

6. She’s already a legend. Did we mention she’s only 47?

In 2016, McDonald was awarded the National Medal of Arts by former President Barack Obama. The following year, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

“It’s unreal what I’ve accomplished, but what’s really incredible is that I still have so many more years to work,” she said. “In some ways, I feel like I’m just getting started.”


Who: Audra McDonald, presented by Carolina Performing Arts

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 20 and 2 p.m. Jan. 21

Where: Memorial Hall, 114 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, on the UNC campus

Tickets: $29, $49, $79 and $99.

Info: 919-843-3333 or carolinaperformingarts.org