Margaret Avery was born in Magnum, Oklahoma and was raised in San Diego, California. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from San Francisco State University in 1965 and immediately began working as a first grade teacher at Anthony Chabot Elementary School in Oakland, California. During her primary teaching years, she fueled her creative interests and developed performing skills with evening and weekend singing, acting, and dancing classes. She studied technique at the Judy Davis Voice Studio in Oakland as well as The American Conservatory Theatre and the Jack Kosslyn Actors Workshop in San Francisco.
Inspired by Sidney Poitier’s Oscar winning performance in the film, “Lillies of the Field”, Diahanne Carroll’s starring role in her own series, “Julia”, as well as Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream”, Ms. Avery moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in 1968. Working as a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District allowed her to sustain a modest life style though she was assigned to the least desired schools and their most difficult classrooms which, in turn, raised her awareness of the inequities in the learning process for children living in poverty and increased her compassion for students dubbed “at-risk”.
In 1970 her disciplined routine of teaching and training paid off as more black female arch-types were introduced into commercial advertising. In 1973 her Los Angeles Drama Circle Award-winning performance in the play “Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?” caught the attention of Clint Eastwood and he quickly cast her in his film “Magnum Force”, serving as an entree for guest starring roles in numerous episodic t.v. shows and Blaxploitation films including “Scott Joplin”, “The Lathe of Heaven”, “The Return of Superfly” and “Heatwave”. She eventually got cast in her most widely recognized Academy-Award nominated role as Shug Avery in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple”.
Between acting jobs Ms. Avery continued to volunteer, working with the children of inner city schools. In addition to these contributions to her community in 1993, at age 50, she earned a Masters of Psychology degree from the renowned Phillips Graduate Institute of Southern California, returning to work for the Los Angeles Unified School District as a Psychotherapist and eventually joining a private practice. Though retired from both, her involvement with at-risk children and women's issues remains. She is also a new public advocate for continued Lupus research and education through the Lupus Foundation of America; a cause preempted by personally knowing individuals living with Lupus as well as playing a character who suffers from the disease.
Ms. Avery feels blessed to have had the educational support and courage to strive for her dream of becoming a professional actor. She has, in a career spanning over forty-five years, co-starred with such icons as: Art Carney, Cicely Tyson, Clint Eastwood, Dick Van Dyke, Harry Belefonte, James Earl Jones, John Travolta, Mary Tyler Moore, Michael Douglas, Redd Fox, Richard Pryor, Robert Young, Whoopi Goldberg, and Oprah Winfrey. Avery currently co-stars on BET’s first original scripted series “Being Mary Jane” opposite Gabrielle Union and Richard Roundtree as Mrs. Helen Patterson.