In 1957, she made her off-Broadway debut in the Langston Hughes musical, Simply Heavenly. The impressive cast of black actors included three future Academy Award nominees: James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson and Louis Gossett, Junior. Throughout her career, Ayler has appeared frequently with the Negro Ensemble Company.
This includes notable performances in The First Breeze of Summer, Eden and Nevis Mountain Dew.
On television, Ayler had a recurring role as Carrie Hanks, Claire Huxtable"s mother on The Cosby Show. She has also made memorable performances in the films To Sleep with Anger (1990) and Eve"s Bayou (1997).
Ayler"s most recent Broadway appearance was in another Tony-nominated production, The Little Foxes in 1997.