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As dance instructor Lydia Grant in the 1980 film Fame Debbie Allen dropped one of the most iconic lines in cinema history “You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well fame costs. And right here is where you start paying…in sweat.”

Allen’s career is a testament to those very words. After a successful career as a Broadway actress and singer, Allen made the switch to television. As lead choreographer for the film and television adaptation of FAME, Allen snagged two Emmy Awards and and a Golden Globe.

Allen got another big break in 1988 when Bill Cosby brought her on board as the series director for “A Different World”, after a lackluster first season. Drawing on her own experiences as a student at a historically black college (Howard), Allen infused the series with a soulful intelligence, tackling issues such as HIV, date rape, pregnancy and interracial relationships. Under Allen’s reign, “A Different World” became one of the highest rated shows amongst black viewers.

Way Black When Honors: Debbie Allen  was originally published on