Leslie Uggams: Breaking Barriers
She was one of the first African-American women to be a regular on a hit music show (the aforementioned Sing Along with Mitch.) She was THE first African-American woman to host her own network variety show. And she was one of the stars of Roots, the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book of the same title. She’s Leslie Uggams: actress, singer, host, and pioneer.
Leslie started her television career early, appearing on Beulah in 1950 as the lead character’s niece. Two years later, in 1952, Leslie began her winning streak on the talent show TV Teen Club, consistently singing her way into the top spot. But weeks of placing first soon ended with sabotage:
(Image of applause meter from J. Fred MacDonald's "AV Highlights Leslie Uggams" from Blacks and White TV.)
In 1961, Leslie became a regular on the popular music program Sing Along with Mitch. She stayed with the show for three years, much to the chagrin of certain sponsors and network executives - controversy Leslie was unaware of at the time:
In 1969, Leslie hosted a variety series bearing her name, The Leslie Uggams Show. The program lasted only ten episodes. Why just ten? According to Leslie, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour played a role in her show’s short-lived run:
Then in 1977, Leslie starred in the ABC miniseries Roots, delivering a powerful performance as the only daughter of Kunta Kinte. It was love at first script for Leslie Uggams and Kizzy Reynolds:
In her Archive interview Leslie also tells us about her many stage performances (she sang at the Apollo when she was little and won a Tony Award in 1968 for her role in “Hallelujah, Baby!”), discusses her run as co-host of the game show Fantasy, and talks of her appearances on the hit show Empire. Prepare yourself for an in-depth conversation with a woman who paved the way for those who came after, gave us some of television’s most memorable moments (the Roots wagon scene AND Kizzy and Missy Anne’s late-in-life reunion!), and has one of the most beautiful voices in the business. She can croon like no other, and history's proven that she's done a whole lot more than just sing with that voice.