The Pasadena Alumnae Chapter invited other chapters and guests to an enlivening and candid conversation with Tony and Emmy Award-winner, Leslie Uggams, at the renowned Pasadena Playhouse Theatre on Wednesday, February 11, 2009. The program was moderated by the artistic African- American playhouse director, Mr. Sheldon Epps. Indeed this was a Red Carpet celebration of Pasadena Playhouse's theme, "Women: The Heart and Soul of Theatre," the evening began with a tasting of cobbler in the Playhouse courtyard while entertained by an accomplished jazz female trio. Our memorable evening with Ms. Uggams offered an intimate glimpse into her life and career as one of America's most dynamic entertainers and female African American pioneer of television. She was the product of a showbiz family and began singing as a child at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NY. She retired at age twelve only to return later as a vocalist on the television quiz show, "Name That Tune".
While attending Juilliard School of Music in New York, Ms. Uggams joined the "Sing Along With Mitch" television program, becoming the first female singer and the first African American to join Mitch Miller's variety show. The presence of an African American singer drew some controversy, as some stations in the south refused to air the program. Mitch Miller was told either Ms. Uggams goes or the show goes! Ms. Uggams said Mitch Miller responded, "Either she stays or there's no show." "He loved that show which he had been trying to sell for a long time, and to turn around and do that was heroic," Uggams stated.
Ms. Uggams' Broadway appearances have included starring with James Earl Jones in On the Golden Pond, but It was her Broadway debut as the lead in Hallelujah Baby, which earned her the 1968 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Broadway Musical Comedy. She was brilliant as "Kizzy" in the groundbreaking 1977 TV saga "Roots." Soror was 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 co-host of a nighttime audience participation series, "Fantasy" in 1983 for which she grabbed an Emmy award for her efforts
Ms. Uggams is currently playing the legendary Lena Horne at the Pasadena Playhouse Theatre January 21st through March 8st. She beautifully and powerfully portrayed a lady whom she dearly admires; nevertheless, her presence was compelling. Ms. Uggams and Ms. Horne are members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and compared their lives in several aspects. For example, both were participants in the Civil Rights Movement.
Ms. Uggams lives in New York City and has been married for forty three years to an Australian-born businessman. The couple have two children. Singing continues to be the mainstay of her career, but she would like to do more acting.
Other chapters joining us for the evening were Foothill Alumnae and Century City Alumnae of Los Angeles. Mrs. Gwendolyn McMullins, President of the Pasadena Alumnae Chapter, presented our Delta Sister Uggams, with a beautiful boutique of roses and orchids on behalf of the chapter and visiting sorors.