Leslie Uggams

Active - 1962 - 2018  |   Born - May 25, 1943   |   Genres - Drama, Music

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A musical career came virtually by inheritance to African-American entertainer Leslie Uggams. Her father sang with the Hall Johnson Choir, and her mother was a chorus dancer. At age 6, Leslie was appearing with Ethel Waters in the TV sitcom The Beulah Show; at eight, she was featured on Paul Whiteman's TV Teen Club; and from eight to twelve, she sang on tour in big-city theatres and showed up in guests spots on shows starring the likes of Arthur Godfrey, Milton Berle and Garry Moore. A graduate of the Professional Children's School of New York, Uggams "retired" from show business at age 12--only to reemerge as a contestant (and singer) on the TV game show Name That Tune. Later on in 1960, Uggams was showcased to perfection as the offscreen singer of "Old Time Religion" in the opening scenes of the movie Inherit the Wind. While a student at Julliard in 1961, Ms. Uggams was hired to be regular female vocalist on Sing Along With Mitch, an otherwise all-male (and all-white) songfest hosted by Mitch Miller. A major star by 1969, Uggams became the first black female performer to host her own TV series since Hazel Scott in the '50s; alas, The Leslie Uggams Show became the latest in a long list of casualties to its powerhouse competition Bonanza. The next two decades were a kaleidescope of lofty heights and dismal depths for Uggams. But when she triumphed, it was big-time: She was brilliant as Kizzy in the groundbreaking 1977 TV saga Roots, and no less superb in a key role on a 1979 mini-series, Backstairs at the White House. Leslie Uggams' last regular television stint was as cohost of a nighttime audience participation series, Fantasy, in 1983. The series didn't last, but Uggams managed to grab an Emmy award for her efforts.

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