Leslie Uggams

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Leslie Uggams
Leslie Uggams 1997.jpg
Uggams in 1997
Leslie Marian Uggams

(1943-05-25) May 25, 1943 (age 76)
EducationJuilliard School
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1951–present
Known forKizzy Reynolds – Roots

Leslie Marian Uggams (born May 25, 1943)[1] is an American actress and singer. 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 renewed notice with appearances alongside Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool (2016) and in a recurring role on Empire.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Uggams was born in Harlem,[2] the daughter of Juanita Ernestine (Smith), a Cotton Club chorus girl/dancer, and Harold Coyden Uggams, an elevator operator and maintenance man,[3] who was a singer with the Hall Johnson choir.[4] She attended the Professional Children's School of New York and Juilliard.[4][5] She met her husband, Grahame Pratt, while she was performing in Sydney; they married in 1965. After their wedding, the couple decided to reside in New York, in part to avoid America's racial segregation laws of that time.[5]

Early work[edit]

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.[4] 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.[6] 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.

Television and film[edit]

She appeared in her own television variety show, The Leslie Uggams Show in 1969. This was the first network variety show to be hosted by a black person since The Nat King Cole Show of the mid-1950s.[7] She had a lead role in the 1977 miniseries Roots, for which she received an Emmy nomination, as Kizzy.[8] 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 Family Guy (as herself), I Spy, Hollywood Squares, The Muppet Show, The Love Boat and Magnum, P.I.. In 1996, Uggams played the role of Rose Keefer on All My Children.[4] She won a 1983 Daytime Emmy Award as a host of the NBC game show Fantasy.[9]

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.[10] She later appeared in Sugar Hill (1994) opposite Wesley Snipes, and played Blind Al in Deadpool (2016) in February 2016.[11] 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.[12]

She is an active Democrat and hosted a 1984 Democratic Telethon.[13]


Uggams performing in 1971

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.[14] She won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical (in a tie with Patricia Routledge).[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] Later Broadway roles include Muzzy in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003–2004) and Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond at the Kennedy Center in 2004[18] and on Broadway at the Cort Theatre in 2005.[19] In 2001, she appeared in the August Wilson play King Hedley II,[20] receiving a nomination for the Tony Award, Best Actress in a Play.[21] In January 2009, Uggams played Lena Horne in a production of the stage musical Stormy Weather at the Pasadena Playhouse in California, directed by Michael Bush and choreographed by Randy Skinner.[22] In June 2012, Uggams played Muzzy in a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at The Muny in Saint Louis, Missouri.[23] In 2014, she starred as Rose in Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Nutmeg Summer Series production of Gypsy.


  • The Eyes of God (Columbia CS8174, 1959)
  • LESLIE UGGAMS ON TV with Mitch Miller's sing along chorus (Columbia CL1706, 1962)
  • So in Love! (Columbia CS8871, 1963)
  • A Time to Love (Atlantic 8128, 1966)
  • What's An Uggams? (Atlantic SD8196, 1968)
  • Just to Satisfy You (Atlantic SD8241, 1969)
  • Leslie (Columbia CS9936, 1970)
  • Try To See It My Way (Sonday SL8000, 1972)
  • Leslie Uggams (Motown M6846S1, 1975)
  • Leslie Uggams: On My Way To You: Songs of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (2003)[24]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Supersisters trading card set

  • 1979: (one of the cards featured Uggams's name and picture)[25]

Theater World Award

  • 1967 Theater World Award for "Hallelujah Baby"

Tony Award

  • 1968 Winner for Leading Actress in a Musical for "Hallelujah Baby"
  • 2001 Nominated for Leading Actress in a Play for "King Hedley II"

Daytime Emmy

  • 1983 Winner as Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series for "Fantasy"
  • 1984 Nominated as Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series for "Fantasy"

Ovation Awards

honorary Degrees


  1. ^ Jessie Carney Smith, ed. (1996). Notable Black American Women, Book II. Gale Research. p. 664. ISBN 0-8103-9177-5.
  2. ^ "About Leslie • Leslie Uggams". leslieuggams.com.
  3. ^ "Leslie Uggams Biography (1943–)". filmreference.com.
  4. ^ a b c d "Leslie Uggams Biography" AllMusic. Retrieved July 15, 2015
  5. ^ a b Uggams, Leslie; Curnow, Hugh (May 1967). "Why I Married an Australian: Young singer tells of her marriage across color line". Ebony. 22 (7): 140–142, 144–149.
  6. ^ Petrow, Richard (August 9, 1959). "The good luck show". New York Daily News Sunday Magazine. p. 10. Archived from the original on July 12, 2019. Retrieved July 12, 2019 – via newspapers.com.
  7. ^ "The Leslie Uggams Show" museum.tv. Retrieved March 4, 2012
  8. ^ "Roots" museum.tv. Retrieved March 4, 2012
  9. ^ "ABC leads in Daytime Emmy awards". United Press International. June 9, 1983. Archived from the original on May 8, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  10. ^ " 'Poor Pretty Eddie' Synopsis" tcm.com. Retrieved March 4, 2012
  11. ^ "Leslie Uggams Cast in Deadpool Movie for 20th Century Fox". Retrieved July 10, 2015.
  12. ^ Rooney, Matt. "Leslie Uggams Will Return As Blind Al For Deadpool 2". JoBlo.
  13. ^ Mathews, Jay (May 28, 1983). "Democrats Hope to Get $6 Million in Telethon". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ Siegel, Naomi. "Theater Review; Of Its Moment: 1967" The New York Times, October 24, 2004
  15. ^ "Tony AWards, 1968" broadwayworld.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012
  16. ^ Rich, Frank. "Theater: 'Jerry's Girls,' A Musical Entertainment" The New York Times, December 19, 1985
  17. ^ Nemy, Enid. "On Stage" The New York Times, March 17, 1989
  18. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams Open in 'On Golden Pond' Oct. 2"[permanent dead link] playbill.com, October 2, 2004
  19. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Jones and Uggams Face Facts of Family Life in Broadway Return of 'On Golden Pond' " Archived July 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, April 7, 2005
  20. ^ Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review: The Agonized Arias Of Everyman In Poverty and Pain" The New York Times, May 2, 2001
  21. ^ "Tony Award, 2001" broadwayworld.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012
  22. ^ Jones, Kenneth. Stormy Weather, Musical of Horne's Life, Starring Uggams, Begins West Coast Premiere" Playbill, January 21, 2009
  23. ^ "Press Release, Thoroughly Modern Millie " Archived July 3, 2012, at the Wayback Machine muny2.org. Retrieved March 4, 2012
  24. ^ "Leslie Uggams – On My Way to You: Songs of Alan & Marilyn Bergman". discogs. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  25. ^ Wulf, Steve (March 23, 2015). "Supersisters: Original Roster". ESPN. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  26. ^ "Ovation Nominees". October 20, 2009.
  27. ^ "Four to receive honorary degrees at Spring Commencement | The University Record". record.umich.edu. Retrieved October 4, 2019.

External links[edit]