Leslie Uggams

Performer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In her two-hour interview, Leslie Uggams describes her childhood growing up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan and how she began performing at the Apollo Theater at the age of nine. She talks about her appearances on early television shows including Beulah, The Milton Berle Show, and The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club throughout her childhood and teenage years, and being discovered by Mitch Miller on Name That Tune. She goes into detail about working with Mitch Miller on his show Sing Along with Mitch, including the pushback Miller got about having an African American performer on the show and how Miller stood behind her. For Sing Along with Mitch, Uggams also describes the filming process, including the fact that the cast lip-synced their songs. She describes television appearances through the 1960s and tells stories of The Leslie Uggams Show, which made her the first African American woman to headline her own variety series. She shares recollections of the performers she worked with from Frank Sinatra to Jimmy Durante. Uggams describes how she was cast as “Kizzy Reynolds” on Roots, and shares stories of the filming of the show, meeting Alex Haley, working with her castmates, and the on-going impact of the groundbreaking miniseries. She touches on later television appearances of the 80s and 90s before describing more recent acting gigs on The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, Empire and in the 2016 film "Deadpool." She concludes by describing career highlights and regrets and giving advice to aspiring actresses. Adrienne Faillace conducted the interview on June 3, 2016 in New York, NY.

“I like to reinvent myself. I don’t like to do what I did 20 years ago. I like playing against what people think of me.”

Highlights
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
01:32
Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater at nine years-old, and working with Louis Armstrong
02:09
Leslie Uggams on doing a screen test for Roots and nearly not getting the part because the original old-age makeup was so bad
02:07
Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
02:24
Leslie Uggams on her appearance in "Deadpool"
02:10
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress
01:15
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her childhood and early influences; on performing at the Apollo Theater and on television variety shows as a child
12:25
On appearing on other television shows as a child; on recording her first album and working with Mitch Miller; on her work on Sing Along with Mitch
14:24
On becoming recognizable after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch; on discrimination she faced early in her career; on television appearances in the 1960s
10:49
On The Leslie Uggams Show and being the first African American woman to headline her own variety show; on working with Sammy Davis, Jr.
09:45
On working with various performers; on winning a Tony Award and performing at the Tonys; on acting on stage versus acting on television
09:26

Chapter 2

On being cast as "Kizzy" on Roots; on her relationship to "Kizzy"; on working with John Amos and Madge Sinclair on Roots
10:36
On the scene in Roots when her character, "Kizzy" is sold; on working with Roots castmates; on the rehearsal and filming process for Roots
10:34
On working with Richard Roundtree on Roots; on the impact of Roots; on the success and legacy of Roots
09:14
On Backstairs at the White House; on her game show Fantasy; on television appearances in the 70s and 80s; on appearing on The Good Wife and Nurse Jackie
11:43
On appearing on Empire; on her appearance in "Deadpool"; on her greatest career achievements and regrets; on advice to aspiring actresses
14:10
Shows

Backstairs at the White House

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Leslie Uggams on Backstairs at the White House
02:47
Leslie Uggams on her favorite scene in Backstairs at the White House
00:47

Beulah

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Beulah at six years-old
01:07

Cosby Show, The

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Cosby Show
00:18

Different World, A

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on A Different World
00:45

Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:46

Empire

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Empire
02:05

Fantasy

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Leslie Uggams on her game show Fantasy
02:26

Good Wife, The

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Good Wife
01:23

Hee Haw

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Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show being CBS' response to cancelling The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and her show being replaced by Hee Haw
02:47

I Spy

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on I Spy
01:02

Leslie Uggams Show, The

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Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
02:24
Leslie Uggams on the network's input on guests that appeared on The Leslie Uggams Show and the "Sugar Hill" segments on the show
01:21
Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show being CBS' response to cancelling The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and her show being replaced by Hee Haw
02:47
Leslie Uggams on the legacy of The Leslie Uggams Show
01:02

Milton Berle Show, The (1954-56)

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Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
01:19
Leslie Uggams on appearing on Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show as a child and her interactions with the performers and writers
01:44

Name That Tune

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Name That Tune as a teenager and how it led to her being discovered by Mitch Miller
02:08

Nurse Jackie

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Nurse Jackie
02:42

Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club, The

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club
01:26

Roots

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Leslie Uggams on being cast as "Kizzy" on Roots
04:48
Leslie Uggams on meeting Alex Haley on the set of Roots
01:01
Leslie Uggams on making the character of "Kizzy" in Roots her own
01:25
Leslie Uggams on working with John Amos on Roots and her character, "Kizzy's" relationship with Amos' character, "Kunta Kinte"
01:43
Leslie Uggams on the scene in Roots where her character, "Kizzy" visits her father's grave
00:46
Leslie Uggams on working with Madge Sinclair, who played her mother on Roots
00:48
Leslie Uggams on filming the scene in Roots when her character, "Kizzy" is sold
01:32
Leslie Uggams on working with Sandy Duncan on Roots and the relationship between their characters
02:14
Leslie Uggams on the scene in Roots where her character, "Kizzy" meets Sandy Duncan's character, "Missy Anne" later in life and "Kizzy" spits in "Missy Anne's" cup
00:40
Leslie Uggams on working with Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs on Roots
00:29
Leslie Uggams on working with Chuck Connors on Roots
01:25
Leslie Uggams on working with Ben Vereen on Roots
01:54
Leslie Uggams on the rehearsal and filming process on Roots
02:11
Leslie Uggams on working with Richard Roundtree on Roots
02:02
Leslie Uggams on her relationship with her Roots character, "Kizzy"
01:17
Leslie Uggams on the 2016 remake of Roots and the impact of Roots when it aired in 1977
01:54
Leslie Uggams on Alex Haley's involvement in the filming of Roots
00:29
Leslie Uggams on the Roots directors she worked with and her interactions with executive producer David L. Wolper and producer Stan Margulies
01:04
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
01:30
Leslie Uggams on the legacy of Roots
00:40

Sing Along with Mitch

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Leslie Uggams on her relationship with Mitch Miller and working with him on Sing Along with Mitch
05:25
Leslie Uggams on Sing Along with Mitch and the performers lip-syncing on the show
01:58
Leslie Uggams on the wardrobe and makeup for Sing Along with Mitch
01:23
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch Miller and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
01:01
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
01:32
Leslie Uggams on the barriers she broke on Sing Along with Mitch and being the first African American woman appearing weekly on a variety show
01:21

Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The

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Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show being CBS' response to cancelling The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and her show being replaced by Hee Haw
02:47

Your Show of Shows

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show as a child and her interactions with the performers and writers
01:44
Topics

Advice

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress
01:15

Civil Rights Movement

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement
01:05

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on the importance of music in her childhood
00:58

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club as a child and not being allowed to win a car on the show because an African American boy had already won one on the show
01:26
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
01:01
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
01:32
Leslie Uggams on discrimination she faced early in her career and barriers she broke down by appearing on Sing Along with Mitch
02:14
Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement
01:05
Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
02:24
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
01:30

Emmy Awards

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on winning a Daytime Emmy for Fantasy
00:25

Fame and Celebrity

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
01:01

First Big Break

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater when she was nine years-old
02:09
Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
01:19

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement
01:05

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on her relationship with her Roots character, "Kizzy" and on the impact of Roots around the world
01:17
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
01:30
Leslie Uggams on the impact of Roots when it aired in 1977
01:14

Minorities

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club as a child and not being allowed to win a car on the show because an African American boy had already won one on the show
01:26
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
01:01
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
01:32
Leslie Uggams on discrimination she faced early in her career and barriers she broke down by appearing on Sing Along with Mitch
02:14
Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement
01:05
Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
02:24
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
01:30

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on the importance of music in her childhood
01:33
Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater when she was nine years-old
02:09
Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
01:19
Leslie Uggams on winning a Tony Award and performing at the Tonys
02:11

Pop Culture

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
01:01

Television Industry

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on how the industry has changed during the course of her career
00:44
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress
01:15

We Considered

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on her relationship with her Roots character, "Kizzy" and on the impact of Roots around the world
01:17
Leslie Uggams on the impact of Roots when it aired in 1977
01:14
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
01:30
Professions

Actress

View Profession
Leslie Uggams on studying acting as a child and later on with Stella Adler
02:03
Leslie Uggams on performing on stage versus performing on television
01:28
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress
01:15

Performers

View Profession
Leslie Uggams on singing on television shows as a child and when she began to seriously studying singing
01:10
Leslie Uggams on studying acting as a child and later on with Stella Adler
02:03
Leslie Uggams on performing on stage versus performing on television
01:28
Leslie Uggams on what she loves about performing
00:59
Leslie Uggams on her favorite songs in her repertoire
02:10
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress
01:15
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Leslie Uggams appearing on Beulah at six years-old
01:07
Leslie Uggams on appearing on I Spy
01:02
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Cosby Show
00:18
Leslie Uggams on appearing on A Different World
00:45

Drama Series

View Genre
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Good Wife
01:23
Leslie Uggams on appearing on Nurse Jackie
02:42
Leslie Uggams on appearing on Empire
02:05

Game Shows

View Genre
Leslie Uggams on appearing on Name That Tune as a teenager
02:08
Leslie Uggams on her game show Fantasy
02:26

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
01:19
Leslie Uggams on appearing Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show as a child and her interactions with the performers and writers
01:44
Leslie Uggams on her work on Sing Along with Mitch
13:36
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:46
Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show
07:37

Reality TV

View Genre
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club
01:26

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

View Genre
Leslie Uggams on Roots
30:26
Leslie Uggams on Backstairs at the White House
03:35
People

Stella Adler

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Leslie Uggams on studying acting with Stella Adler
02:03

John Amos

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Leslie Uggams on working with John Amos on Roots and her character, "Kizzy's" relationship with Amos' character, "Kunta Kinte"
01:43

Louis Armstrong

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Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater at nine years-old, and working with Louis Armstrong
02:09

Milton Berle

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Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
01:19
Leslie Uggams on an interaction between her mother and Milton Berle's mother on the set of The Milton Berle Show
00:49

Johnny Carson

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Leslie Uggams on working with Johnny Carson
00:58

Chuck Connors

View Person Page
Leslie Uggams on working with Chuck Connors on Roots and filming the scene when his character, "Tom Moore" rapes her character, "Kizzy"
01:25

Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Leslie Uggams on working with Sammy Davis, Jr.
02:07

Sandy Duncan

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Leslie Uggams on working with Sandy Duncan on Roots and the relationship between their characters
02:55

Jimmy Durante

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Leslie Uggams on working with Jimmy Durante
00:42

Alex Haley

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Leslie Uggams on meeting Alex Haley on the set of Roots
01:01
Leslie Uggams on Alex Haley's involvement in the filming of Roots
00:29

Stan Margulies

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Leslie Uggams on her interactions with David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies, the executive producer and producer of Roots
00:34

Peter Marshall

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Leslie Uggams on co-hosting Fantasy with Peter Marshall
02:32

Dean Martin

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Leslie Uggams on working with Dean Martin
00:52

Bob McGrath

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Leslie Uggams on working with Bob McGrath on Sing Along with Mitch and later reuniting with him on Sesame Street
00:44

Mitch Miller

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Name That Tune as a teenager and how it led to her being discovered by Mitch Miller and recording an album with him
02:42
Leslie Uggams on her relationship with Mitch Miller and appearing on Sing Along with Mitch
01:42
Leslie Uggams on what it was like to work with Mitch Miller and the last time Miller saw her perform
01:43
Leslie Uggams on Sing Along with Mitch and the performers lip-syncing on the show
04:23
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
01:32

Richard Roundtree

View Person Page
Leslie Uggams on working with Richard Roundtree on Roots and filming a particularly tense scene
02:02

Frank Sinatra

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Leslie Uggams on working with Frank Sinatra
02:26

Madge Sinclair

View Person Page
Leslie Uggams on working with Madge Sinclair, who played her mother on Roots
00:48

Ben Vereen

View Person Page
Leslie Uggams on working with Ben Vereen on Roots and the scene where her character, "Kizzy" tells his character, "Chicken George" that "Tom Moore" (Chuck Connors) is his father
01:54

Flip Wilson

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Leslie Uggams on working with Flip Wilson
00:39

David L. Wolper

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Leslie Uggams on her interactions with David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies, the executive producer and producer of Roots
00:34

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