Previously Known For: As Ashley Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
|Currently Known For: Love That Girl! and The Young and the Restless|
“I believe in fate. I believe in hard work and I feel like if I just keep marching, the path will kind of appear before me.” From Sesame Street and Star Search to The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Young and the Restless, Tatyana Ali has certainly come a long way in show business over the last three decades. Since getting her start on Sesame Street at only four years old and later winning the part of Ashley Banks opposite Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the 38-year-old actress has enjoyed a string of good luck in Hollywood but her most fulfilling roles have only come in the last two years thanks to her marriage to Dr. Vaughn Rasberry followed by the birth of their son, Edward, in September 2016. So, how’s motherhood treating the former child star and Harvard University alum?
The eldest of three daughters, Tatyana Marposa Ali was born on January 24, 1979 in North Bellmore, New York where her mother worked as a nurse and her father was a retired sheriff from Trinidad. Already showing an interest in performing as a child, Ali was four years old when she auditioned for and won a spot on the popular children’s program, Sesame Street. Spending the next few years on the show, she also worked in a handful of productions like Fences and Orfeo del Campo both on and off Broadway before taking her talents to Star Search at seven years old in 1987. Two years later, she made a cameo on The Cosby Show before her family moved to Los Angeles where she caught the biggest break of her career when she was cast as Ashley Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a new sitcom starring a young rapper named Will Smith.
“I was only eleven when we filmed the pilot,” Ali said of her early thoughts on The Fresh Prince. “I didn’t really expect anything to come out of it. I mean, the idea of a rapper being a star on a sitcom just wasn’t heard of.” Fortunately for Ali, the series was a huge hit and lasted six seasons from 1990 to 1996 as she appeared in popular series like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, In the House and Living Single. But, although her work was consistent, she struggled to break free of being typecast as Ashley Banks even after The Fresh Prince wrapped in 1996. “It’s been hard… it actually has been hard,” Ali said. “You know coming off of a successful show and trying to find work, and casting directors only seeing that character when you walk into the door is really hard.”
Frustrated by constantly being typecast or passed over for other actresses, Ali took matters into her own hands in 1998 and enrolled at Harvard University where she studied African American studies and government. Living on campus to get the full experience of college life, Ali said working on her degree was difficult but incredibly worthwhile. “I found it challenging, but a lot like I expected. A lot of independent study,” she said after her graduation in 2002. “It was weird at first because I think everyone thought that maybe I thought I was some sort of diva. It took a couple of weeks before anyone got the nerve to talk to me and then word got around that I was normal. I used to get stopped for little interviews and started meeting people.”
After graduation, Ali returned to acting with credits in Fastlane, Half & Half, and On the Lot but, this time around, found more work on the silver screen with cameos in National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze, Nora’s Hair Salon, Glory Road and The List. In 2007, she was cast in a recurring role on The Young and the Restless with the popular soap opera taking her into 2013 and overlapping with her starring role as Tyana Jones on Love That Girl, which ran from 2010 to 2012… that doesn’t even count her work with Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign! As if these projects didn’t keep her busy enough, she returned to her early passion for music and proved she didn’t have to choose between acting, politics or music with singles like “Wait for It” and contributions on albums like Dear Secret Santa, The Legacy of R&B Slow Jamz, The Legacy of Nu Soul and Music to Inspire.
Over the last few years, Ali’s focus seems to have shifted more toward her music and her life at home with her last acting credits coming in the 2016 series, Zoe Ever After, and in the 2015 film, November Rule. Of course, part of that shift also has a lot to do with her whirlwind romance with Dr. Vaughn Raspberry, an English professor at Stanford University whom Ali met on eHarmony. “It was my first time dating online,” Ali said of their courtship. “We wrote letters for months before we decided to Skype. And then, of course, met.” Meeting and falling in love, the couple married on July 17, 2016 (with plenty of Ali’s costars from The Fresh Prince in attendance) just months after learning they were expecting their first child. “Planning our wedding has been so exciting, but when we found out we were expecting, our perspective shifted completely,” Ali admitted.
Welcoming their son, Edward, into the world in September 2016 after nine months of great anticipation since choosing not to find out their baby’s gender, Ali has embraced her life at home as a wife and mother saying, “I’m so excited for this new chapter. Wife and mommy all at the same time. Luckily, I’ll be sharing the adventure with my best friend. We feel so blessed.” Since Edward’s birth, the 38-year-old Ali now admits that nothing could prepare her for the joys of motherhood, not even an entire career in Hollywood or dozens of self-help books. “It’s so much fun,” she gushes. “You try to get ready, but nothing can really prepare you for what actually goes on and what it’s like.” Instead, Ali admits that she and her husband are learning as they go, which is certainly working out for the happy family of three as they recently celebrated their first year of marriage and Edward’s first birthday!