The most striking achievement of the evening was Phylicia Rashad's win as Best Leading Actress in a Play for her work as family matriarch Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. In winning, she became the first black actress to triumph in that category in the Tony's 58-year history. (Several African-American performers have won as Best Leading Actress in a Musical, including Virginia Capers in Raisin, Diahann Carroll in No Strings and Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls.) Backstage at the ceremony, Rashad reacted with surprise to the news. "I didn't know that," she said. "I hadn't thought about it that way. It's an honor for any actress to win this."
In addition to Rashad, two other black female performers took home trophies—Audra McDonald of Raisin in the Sun and Anika Noni Rose of Caroline, or Change. In all, three of the four female acting categories were won by black woman—the strongest showing ever in Tony history. Had Tonya Pinkins of Caroline, or Change won in the Leading Actress in a Musical category—as many expected she would—it would have been a clean sweep. Instead, Idina Menzel of Wicked triumphed.
McDonald herself made a separate bit of history, becoming only the fourth actress, and the only African-American actress, in Tony history to have won four awards. She is also the youngest actress to have collected four medallions, and the only one to have received them all the supporting category.