Leslie Uggams was born on May 25, 1943, in New York City. She grew up in a four-bedroom house in the Washington Heights district of Manhattan. In order to help maintain their well-to-do lifestyle, Uggams’ father worked three jobs: train porter, elevator operator, and professional floor waxer. Her mother performed as a line dancer at the Cotton Club alongside Lena Horne.
Uggams began performing in 1949 when she was merely six years old. She performed on the nationally televised series, ‘Beulah,’ starring Ethel Waters. By the time she was nine, Uggams was opening for Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald at the famous Apollo Theater. She performed continuously throughout her childhood.
Uggams attended the New York Professional Children’s School. This school enabled children who were working on Broadway to obtain an education simultaneously. Uggams was an active member of the school, serving as the yearbook editor and student body president. She graduated in 1961 and then attended the Juilliard School from 1961 to 1963 but did not graduate.
Uggams appeared on a number of TV shows as a child, including ‘Sing Along With Mitch.’ In the early 1960s, she landed a 10-album recording contract with Columbia Records. She then began performing at the Copacabana before making her Broadway debut.
After Lena Horne walked away from the 1967 play, ‘Hallelujah, Baby!,’ Uggams replaced her. Her Broadway debut earned her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Broadway Musical Comedy. She continued her career on Broadway, working on major plays and starring opposite a number of actors and actresses.
TV and Film
In 1969, Uggams began hosting her own series, titled ‘The Leslie Uggams Show.’ The series aired on CBS-TV but was canceled mid-season. She continued to appear in other television series and eventually made her film debut. She co-starred in ‘Skyjacked’ with Charlton Heston (1972) and in ‘Black Girl’ (1972) which was directed by Ossie Davis.
Uggams’ most famous role which propelled her to international stardom, was in the made-for-TV miniseries, ‘Roots’ (1977), which was adapted from Alex Haley’s book of the same title. She played the role of Kizzy and her performance ultimately earned her an Emmy nomination. She was later nominated for a Golden Globe and received a Critics Choice and Emmy Award.
In addition to recording and maintaining a hectic touring schedule, Uggams has also continued acting. Her most recent role was Blind Al in the critically acclaimed films, ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Deadpool 2’ starring Ryan Reynolds. Leslie Uggams is currently alive and well and continues to act at the age of 75.
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