Performer, writer, producer and director T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh is back on the Hollywood scene. Ten years after 'Tonya Baxter' mysteriously moved to London to study law, the actress who embodied the quirky character, loved by Disney fans worldwide, is acting steadily once again.
A performer since childhood, Keymáh studied theater, dance, voice, and pantomime in high school, then turned down a business scholarship to complete her studies at Florida A&M University with a degree in Theatre, co-oping at Florida State University to graduate, with honors, on time. After college, the Chicago native worked as a singer, dancer and actress, and won the title of Miss Black Illinois before placing 1st runner-up in the Miss Black America pageant. She moved to Los Angeles after wowing casting directors with her original performance piece, “In Black World...” in an open call for a pilot on a young television network.
That pilot turned out to be Fox's groundbreaking, internationally successful, Emmy and TV Land Award winning sketch comedy show In Living Color. The only female to star in all five seasons, Keymáh delivered hilarious, spot on impressions like those of Whoopi Goldberg and 'Edith Bunker,' created a slew of iconic characters like Hilda Headley (Hey Mon), and Shawanda Harvey (Go On Girl), and brought her own characters such as Cryssy (In Black World) and LaShawn to the show. On the heels of In Living Color, she went on to guest star on several live action and animated shows, and to star in five other series, playing: sexy contractor Scotti Decker on ABC's On Our Own; laid back television writer Denise Everett on Fox's The Show; a dozen lead and guest character voices on Damon Wayans's animated series Waynehead; flight attendant turned lawyer, turn pastry chef turned teacher Erica Lucas, on CBS’s Cosby; and firm, fun, caring mom Tanya Baxter, on Disney’s That’s So Raven.
Wearing her hair naturally on television since her days on In Living Color, when doing so was rare, Keymáh has inspired a generation of women to follow her lead. In her popular coffee table book, Natural Woman / Natural Hair, the author lovingly demonstrates how to style African American natural hair and shares her experiences wearing her hair naturally on television. She is delighted that so many young women all over the world look to her as a natural hair icon. “What really gets me though, are the single and weekend dads and interracial families that my book has helped, and the older women that credit me with their natural hair conversions,” Keymáh says.
While working steadily in television, Keymáh also managed to remain active on the live stage, and to perform in several films. Some of those projects she also produced, including her NAACP Theatre Award winning stage show Some of My Best Friends; A Collection of Characters, which she also wrote, and the WorldFest Houston Silver Award winning independent film, One Last Time. She directed many of her own shows as well as other stage projects, and even helmed a special episode of That's So Raven. After more than twenty years of constant work on stage, television and film, Keymáh's life changed direction completely when her grandmother became seriously ill. Throughout the run of That's So Raven, Keymáh was in charge of the care of the woman who raised her, who was then suffering from Alzheimer's disease. At the end of her final season on the show, the actress decided to take a break from performing to focus on her grandmother, and see her through her transition.
In the years that followed, Keymáh has focused on her family life, teaching and mentoring aspiring actors, and on charitable and philanthropic endeavors. A National Merit Scholar, and recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from her alma mater Florida A&M University, Keymáh also enrolled in a graduate program, studying psychology part time. Since her last television series, she performed for the most part, only when someone sought her out to do so. Not long ago, however, the multitalented artist renewed her passion for her first love. “My very first shows were all for my grandparents, done right in their living room,” Keymáh recalled. “My grandfather died when I was just nine years old. After grandmother passed away, it took a long time for me to get excited about performing for anyone else.” Luckily for her fans worldwide, Keymáh is performing again.
Starting with a series of small, eclectic projects, she recently played a boisterous 1940's singer who lived and performed as a male in Ben Kadie's short, Bail; the acerbic, cancer-ridden older sister of an actress from the same era passing as White, in Dawn Camouche's Daughter of Fortune, the sweet, loving daughter of a celebrated interracial couple, in William Leon's Attached at the Soul, and a stern but compassionate teacher in Teria Birlon's controversial short, Instance. Keymáh is also continuing to sharpen her acting skills through The (Anton) Checkhov Association's acting teachers program. Fans can look out for her next in a celebrity cameo with In Living Color co-star Tommy Davidson in SyFy’s Sharknado 4, and as Beverly in Candice Cain’s What Happened Last Night. She is also reworking her latest solo stage show, Don't Get Me Started!, which she plans to debut in Chicago this fall.
For more information on T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, you can visit her website www.TKeyah.com.