Deborah Kaye "Debbie" Allen (born January 16, 1950) is an American actress, dancer, choreographer, television director and producer, and a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Allen was born in Houston, Texas, the youngest of four children, and began dancing at 3 yrs old. By the age of 4, she knew she wanted to be a performer. She is the youngest sister of Phylicia Rashad, better known as Claire from the The Cosby Show. Debbie graduated from Jack Yates Senior High School in Houston, TX in 1967. She went on to earn a B.A. degree in classical Greek literature, speech, and theater from Howard University. With Phylicia, she has production company "D.A.D." which stood for "Doctor Allen's Daughters".
Debbie Allen made her Broadway debut in the chorus of Purlie. Ms. Allen also created the role of Beneatha in the Tony Award-winning musical Raisin. She first began receiving critical attention in 1980 for her appearance in the role of Anita in the Broadway revival of West Side Story which earned her a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award, she would receive a second Tony Award nomination in 1986 for her performance in the title role of Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity. One of her earlier television appearances was in the TV sitcom Good Times in a memorable 2-part episode titled "J.J's Fiancee'" as J.J's drug-addicted fiancee, Diana. Debbie Allen was also selected to appear in the acclaimed 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generations by Alex Haley where she plays the wife of Alex Haley.
Allen was introduced as Lydia Grant in the 1980 film Fame. Although her role in the film was relatively small, Lydia would become a central figure in the television adaptation, which ran from 1982 to 1987. She is the only actress to have appeared in all three incarnations of Fame, playing Lydia Grant in both the 1980 film and 1982 television series and playing the school principal in the 2009 remake.
Allen was also lead choreographer for the film and television series, winning two Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe Award. Allen's went on to direct the television series, A Different World. The show dealt with the life of students at the fictional historically black college, Hillman, and ran for six seasons on NBC.
In 2008 she directed the all-African-American Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy), her sister Phylicia Rashād (Big Mama) and Anika Noni Rose (Maggie, the Cat), as well as film actor Terrence Howard, who made his Broadway debut as Brick. The production, with some roles recast, had a limited run (2009-April 2010) in London. During her distinguished career, Allen has choreographed the Academy Awards a record of 10 times and worked produced a variety of shows including Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, All of Us, Family Ties, and more recently Everybody Hates Chris.
Allen also guest judged on the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance, from 2007-2009.