Leslie Uggams has been gracing our television screens for decades, and that's after she got her start as a child in radio and on the stage. Some of her earlier TV work includes appearing on The Lawrence Welk Show and Name That Tune, the latter of which leading to the young performer being offered a record contract. By the time she starred in the groundbreaking TV miniseries Roots in 1977 (and received an Emmy nomination for her work), Uggams had already charted as a recording artist, won a Tony Award for her Broadway debut, and hosted her own TV variety showcase, The Leslie Uggams Show.
Still, Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel of the same name, took Uggams to a new level of fame. The epic series, in which the actor played Kizzy Reynolds, won several Emmys and broke records for the amount of viewers who tuned in. The 79-year-old continues to entertain audiences, including as a recurring character in a popular superhero franchise. Read on to find out more about the show business legend today.
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She's still acting.
After Roots, Uggams appeared in another high-profile miniseries: 1979's Backstairs at the White House. She also appeared in episodes of hit shows like Magnum, P.I., The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, A Different World, All My Children, The Good Wife, and Nurse Jackie. She played recurring character Leah Walker on the music business drama Empire and herself in two episodes of Family Guy. She currently recurs as Mama Reynolds on the medical series New Amsterdam. Movie roles in recent years include 2017's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and two films that came out this year: Nanny and Dotty&Soul. She's due to reprise her role of Blind Al in the third Deadpool movie; Uggams has already played Wade Wilson's (Ryan Reynolds) one-time roommate in the first two installments.
You can catch her performing live.
Beginning with her first Broadway starring role in 1967's Hallelujah, Baby!, Uggams has had an illustrious stage career. She's also appeared in the shows Blues in the Night, Jerry's Girls, Anything Goes, Thoroughly Modern Millie, On Golden Pond, and King Hedley II, the last of which earned her another Tony nomination. Outside of Broadway, Uggams has performed in touring shows and at regional theaters. This summer, the Broadway League presented her and Ben Vereen with their inaugural Juneteeth Legacy Awards, to honor their contribution to the theater community.
Earlier this month, the star had a three-night solo residency at New York City's 54 Below titled "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue." According to the venue, she performed "musical theater showstoppers, American Songbook classics, jazz standards and current pop hits."
Speaking to NiteLife Exchange before her 54 Below shows, Uggams reflected on approaching the milestone age of 80. "I'm like 'What! How did that happen?' When I was growing up, if your mother or father were 40, it was like they're old. We live in a different world today," the star said. "The fact that I'm still going and having incredible opportunities and working with some wonderful people, is an incredible journey. What are they saying now—80 is the new 40?"
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She's opened up about the racism she's experienced.
Another of Uggams' early gigs singing on TV was on the 1961 series, Sing Along with Mitch, starring Mitch Miller. In an interview with the Television Academy in 2017, Uggams revealed that there was controversy behind the scenes about her race, though Miller evidently protected her from hearing about it at the time.
"I didn't know until years later that the sponsors and the network were trying to get rid of me, because the show wasn't being shown in the South. They had blacked it out, no pun intended, and naturally they wanted it to be a nationwide show," she explained. She went on to say that the executives would continually approach Miller with schemes to make her easy to cut out of the shot for certain markets or to have her not physically interact with white cast members, but the host refused them all. "Finally he said, if there's no me, there's no show," Uggams said.
She's been married for 57 years.
Uggams married her friend and manager, Grahame Pratt in 1965, and the long-time couple have two children together. Daughter Danielle is 52 and son Justice is 47. Pratt and Uggams are grandparents to 11-year-old granddaughter Cassidy, who also wants to be an actor, according to People.
The two first met in his home of Australia when Uggams was on tour and fresh off of her Tony win. It was a whirlwind, happy romance, but back in America, they faced disapproval of their interracial marriage, with the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia having been decided just two years prior. Fortunately, whatever pushback they received was well worth it to the devoted pair. "It was not as hard as I expected it to be. I think the reason is that Grahame was not an American white man. But of course we did get mail," she told People in 2018.