Leslie Uggams (born May 25, 1943 in New York City, New York) is an American actress and singer, known for her work in Hallelujah, Baby! and as Kizzy Reynolds in the 1977 television miniseries Roots.
Uggams was born in Harlem, New York. Her father was a singer with the Hall Johnson choir and her mother was a dancer. She attended the Professional Children’s School of New York and Juilliard. She met her husband, Grahame Pratt while she was performing in Sydney, Australia; they married in 1965. After their wedding, the couple decided to reside in New York, in part to avoid Australia’s racial segregation laws of that time.
Uggams started in show business as a child in 1950, playing the niece of Ethel Waters on Beulah. Uggams made her singing debut on the Lawrence Welk Show and was a regular on Sing Along with Mitch, starring record producer-conductor Mitch Miller. In 1960, she sang, off-screen, “Give Me That Old Time Religion” in the film Inherit the Wind. Uggams came to be recognized by TV audiences as an upcoming teen talent in 1954 on the NBC/CBS hit musical quiz show series Name That Tune (1953-9), along with child hitmaker Eddie Hodges.
Here she is on camera for “Your Too Tall and I’m Too Small” video:
Her records “One More Sunrise”(an English-language cover of Ivo Robic’s “Morgen”, 1959) and “House Built On Sand” made Billboard magazine’s charts.
She appeared in her own television variety show, The Leslie Uggams Show in 1969. This was the “first network variety show to feature an African-American host since the mid-1950s Nat “King” Cole Show.” She had a lead role in the 1977 miniseries Roots, for which she received an Emmy nomination, as Kizzy. In 1979, she starred as Lillian Rogers Parks in Backstairs at the White House, a miniseries for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Actress. She also made guest appearances on such television programs as Hollywood Squares, Fantasy, The Muppet Show, and Magnum, P.I.. In 1996, Uggams played the role of Rose Keefer on All My Children. Uggams starred in the 1975 film Poor Pretty Eddie, in which she played a popular singer who, upon being stranded in the deep South, is abused and humiliated by the perverse denizens of a backwoods town.
Uggams was picked to star in Hallelujah, Baby! after Lena Horne declined the role of Georgina. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1967 and “created a new star” in Uggams. She won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical (in a tie with Patricia Routledge). She appeared on Broadway in the revue Blues in the Night in 1982 and in the musical revue of the works of Jerry Herman, Jerry’s Girls in 1985. Uggams replaced Patti LuPone as Reno Sweeney in the Lincoln Center revival of Cole Porter’s musical Anything Goes on Broadway in March 1989. She had played Reno in a US tour in 1988-1989. Later Broadway roles include Muzzy in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003 – 2004) and Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond at the Kennedy Center in 2004 and on Broadway at the Cort Theatre in 2005. In 2001 she appeared in theAugust Wilson play King Hedley II, receiving a nomination for the Tony Award, Best Actress in a Play. In January 2009, Uggams played Lena Horne in a production of the stage musical Stormy Weather at thePasadena Playhouse in California. In June 2012, Uggams played Muzzy in a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at The Muny in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Photo credit: 1) Source. 2) Youtube.