Born September 20, 1917, in rural Virginia, Ms. Taylor was raised in the Harlem section of New York City. She started working in the theatre with the American Negro Theatre. While struggling to get a foothold in the theatre, she followed in her father Leon's footsteps, working at the Post Office.
Ms. Taylor was one of the founding members of the famed Negro Ensemble Company, first headquartered in the East Village on St. Marks Place. The company provided acting opportunities for African-American performers at a time when few were to be had.
She found steady television work on "Sesame Street," playing Harriet, the mother of the character David, for 14 years. But she became a nationally recognizable face when she was cast as the always-smiling, gently chiding Anna Huxtable, the mother of Cliff, played by Bill Cosby. Earl Hyman, another stage veteran, played her husband. Ms. Taylor received an Emmy nomination for her work.
She won an Obie Award for her performance in a one-woman show about Moms Mabley, written by Alice Childress. But the collaboration with Childress was a bitter one. The two women had known each other for four decades and had collaborated many times, Ms. Taylor acting in Childress' plays, including Wedding Band, at NEC. Childress wrote
On Broadway, she played the Good Witch of the North in The Wiz, the black musical version of "The Wizard of Oz." Other Off-Broadway credits include Charlie L. Russell's On the Black Hand Side in 1970, a part Ms. Taylor subsequently repeated on screen.