Family & Companions
A multi-talented performer with experience on stage, the small screen, and most recently, the recording studio, Tatyana Ali was not likely to be short of work any time soon. A former child actress with a heritage as diverse as her talent, Ali was unquestionably best known to audiences for her co-starring turn as Will Smith's cousin, Ashley Banks, in the hugely popular nineties' comedy, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (NBC, 1990-96).
Born Jan. 24, 1979 in New York City, NY to Afro-Latino and Trinidadian parents, Tatyana Marisol Ali got her first taste of fame when she begged her mother to take her to an audition for "Sesame Street" (PBS, 1969- ). Already a gifted songbird by the age of four, Ali's vocal talents made her a born performer and scene stealer. Thanks to her Panamanian-born mother's influence, Ali grew up speaking both English and Spanish, remaining fluent in both into adulthood.
Ali made her first major debut on stage opposite James Earl Jones in the 1985 Broadway production of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Fences." This soon led to Ali getting her first big break on television in an episode of "Star Search" (CBS, 1983-2004). Showing off her phenomenal vocal abilities, the seven-year-old Ali beat several challengers and took home the top prize and title of "Best Junior Vocalist."
Moving with her family to Los Angeles in 1990, Ali promptly found work playing bit parts in a string of popular sitcoms. It was then that Ali discovered her second greatest passion - acting. Within a year, the burgeoning actress landed her breakthrough role and established her career as Will Smith's cousin, Ashley Banks, on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air." An immediate smash hit in the ratings, "The Fresh Prince" would also eventually solidify Will Smith as a major movie star by the end of its six year run.
Keeping busy while filming her sitcom, Ali continued to pop up in guest roles on other popular shows including "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992), "Living Single" (FOX, 1993-98), Disney's "The Mickey Mouse Club" (1989-1994), and the kids' mystery series, "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" (Nickelodeon, 1992-96). She also completed her first made-for-television movie during this time, entitled "Kidz In the Wood" (1996) (also known as "Mr. Foster's Field Trip").
Capitalizing on a good thing, the producers of "The Fresh Prince" made frequent use of Ali's other remarkable talent by having her sing in several episodes. In one of them, Ali's memorable rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" so impressed star Will Smith, that he immediately offered to produce Ali's first album if she ever wished to pursue a recording career. To Smith's delight, Ali held him to his word. In the final season of "The Fresh Prince," Ali made her musical debut with the release of her first album, Kiss The Sky. A glossy compilation of Brandyesque love ballads and soft R&B melodies, the album spawned the hit single "Daydreamin'," which peaked at #6 for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the mid 1990's, Ali began dating fellow actor-turned-teen heartthrob, Jonathan Brandis. A former child star himself, Brandis had been one of the leads of the NBC sci-fi drama "seaQuest DSV" (NBC, 1993-1996). Though the young actor was emotionally troubled and less mature than Ali, their romantic relationship blossomed. In 2003, however, after more than five years together, the couple broke up. The split, while reportedly amicable, seemed all the more tragic when, later that year, Brandis unexpectedly committed suicide.
However unfortunate a chapter this may have been in her personal life, Ali's ambitions remained ever focused. Taking a brief sabbatical from acting to complete her education, Ali graduated in 2002 from prestigious Harvard University. Soon after earning her degree, Ali returned to Los Angeles to resume her career.
At the onset of the new millennium arrived, Ali's plate seemed fuller than ever. In 2006, Ali was cast in a major role in the critically praised sports drama, "Glory Road," based on the true story of Texas Western coach Don Haskins and his history-making 1966 NCAA basketball team.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Appeared as a regular on the acclaimed children's educational series "Sesame Street"
Feature debut, "Eddie Murphy Raw"; appeared briefly as a singer
Broadway debut in "Fences" with James Earl Jones and later with Billy Dee Williams
Cast as Ashley Banks on the hit sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC)
Co-hosted "Brains and Brawn", a short-lived NBC teen game show
Co-hosted the wish fulfillment series "Name Your Adventure" in its third season
Had supporting roles in "Fakin' Da Funk" and "Kiss the Girls"
Released first solo recording "Kiss the Sky"
Appeared in the comedy, "Jawbreaker"
Cast in the thriller, "Brother" opposite Omar Epps
Starred in the comedy "National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze"
Appeared in the sports drama, "Glory Road"