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Tue, 05.25.1943

Leslie Uggams, Actress, and Singer born

Leslie Uggams

*Leslie Uggams was born on this date in 1943.  She is a Black actress and singer.  

Leslie Marian Uggams was born in Harlem, NYC, the daughter of Juanita Ernestine (Smith), a Cotton Club chorus girl/dancer, and Harold Coyden Uggams, an elevator operator and maintenance man, who was a singer with the Hall Johnson choir.  She attended the Professional Children's School of New York and Juilliard. Uggams started in show business as a child in 1951, playing the niece of Ethel Waters on Beulah. 

She made her professional debut at six on Jack Barry's NBC show "Stars And Stardust." Following that, she performed on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts," Paul Whiteman's "TV Teen Show.  Uggams got her biggest break on The Lawrence Welk Show and was a regular on Sing Along with Mitch, starring record producer-conductor Mitch Miller. In 1954, ten-year-old Uggams made a record for MGM, which included a reworking of the song Santa Baby as "Uncle Santa," with words suitable for a child. 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 1958 on the musical quiz show series Name That Tune. A record executive was in the studio audience and signed her to a contract. 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. 

 Uggams has been married to her longtime manager Grahame Pratt since 1965, at the time a rare high-profile interracial marriage. “It was not as hard as I expected it to be,” Uggams says. “I think the reason is that Grahame was not an American white man. But of course, we did get mail.” Uggams met her husband at the Professional Children's School of New York, where they were both students. The couple ran into each other while she was performing in Sydney during one of Uggams's celebrity tours in Australia, and he became her manager afterward. After their wedding, the couple decided to live in New York, in part to avoid America's racial segregation laws of that time. The couple is parents to daughter Danielle born in 1970 and son Justice born in 1976.  

Beginning her career as a child in the early 1950s, Uggams is recognized for portraying Kizzy Reynolds in the television miniseries Roots (1977), earning Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations for her performance. She had earlier been highly acclaimed for the Broadway musical Hallelujah, Baby! winning a Theatre World Award in 1967 and the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1968. Later in her career, Uggams received a renewed notice with appearances alongside Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool (2016) and in a recurring role on Empire. She appeared in her own television variety show, The Leslie Uggams Show in 1969. 

Her film career includes roles in Skyjacked (1972), Black Girl (1972), and Poor Pretty Eddie (1975), 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.  She later appeared in Sugar Hill (1994) opposite Wesley Snipes, and played Blind Al in Deadpool (2016) in February 2016.  In April 2016, she portrayed Leah Walker, the bipolar mother of Lucious Lyon in the hit Fox series Empire. Uggams appeared as Sadie in the 2017 television film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and in 2018, she returned as Blind Al in Deadpool 2.   

To become an Actor or Actress


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