A multi-talented performer who segued to acting out of an operatic vocal background, Audra McDonald began life in Berlin, the daughter of a U.S. Army employee father and an Affirmative Action officer mother. McDonald's dad subsequently transported the family to Virginia and then to Fresno, CA, where he taught school; meanwhile, McDonald set her eyes on show business at age nine. She sang and danced in cabaret and acted in dinner theater, and attended a junior high and high school designed expressly for youngsters interested in the performing arts. Soon, Juilliard beckoned, but even though McDonald gained acceptance at age 17, she reportedly felt less than enthusiastic during her time there -- complaining vocally about the instructors' insistence on leading her down an "operatic" path though she felt disinclined to go that way. This rectified itself when McDonald "found her way" into opera via dramatic readings of French literature. Many a stage musical followed for the blossoming diva, among them The Secret Garden, Carousel, and Master Class; throughout, she quickly attained a superior reputation for the dynamic range of her voice and the almost incomparable breadth of her vocal modulation.
McDonald transitioned to non-musical film acting in the late '90s, with such productions as the made-for-television Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First One Hundred Years (1999) and Mike Nichols' cable movie Wit (2001); in the years to follow, she also joined the casts of the prime-time dramas Bedford Diaries (2006) and Private Practice (2007). The following year, McDonald carried her involvement in the 2004 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's seminal play A Raisin in the Sun to the next level by appearing opposite Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Phylicia Rashad in the 2008 TV movie of that production. In 2011 she appeared Oren Moverman's bad-cop drama Rampart. She played the Mother Abbess in NBC's Sound of Music Live in 2013.