The Harlem-born daughter of a chorus dancer at the Cotton Club and a singer in the Hall Johnson choir, Leslie Uggams began performing on television at the age of six; at seven, she was opening for Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo Theater. It wasn’t until the ripe old age of 23 that she made her Broadway debut, winning the 1968 Tony Award as Best Actress in a Musical for “Hallelujah Baby!” She was nominated for a Tony for her first role in a non-musical play on
Broadway, the 2001 production of August Wilson’s “King Hedley II”.
Uggams is a screen star, probably still best known as Kizzy in the 1977 television series Alex Haley’s Roots, a recording artist with ten solo albums, a cabaret and concert singer. But we’re focusing here just on her theater career
Still, it’s hard to resist this video of Leslie Uggams at age 10 on Your Show of Shows, singing “You’re Too Tall and I’m Too Small” with The Billy Williams Quartet.
Hallelujah Baby! 1968
Uggams won a Tony for portraying a maid who dreams of becoming an entertainer in this musical with music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden; book by Arthur Laurents.
Blues in the Night, 1982
Few videos exist of Uggams’ actual performances on Broadway. These videos are not from the Broadway musical, but they are two of the songs she sang in it. The first, I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
(music by Harold Arlen; lyrics by Ted Koehler),the second the title song music by Harold Arlen; lyrics by Johnny Mercer)
Jerrys Girls, 1985
A revue of songs from the musicals by composer Jerry Herman
Here’s a video of Uggams singing “If He Walked Into My Life” from Mame, which has the added advantage of presenting a photo gallery of the performer through the years.
“I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles, a showstopper in the revue
Anything Goes, 1988
“I get a kick out of you,” again sung by Uggams but this video is not from the Broadway musical
Thoroughly Modern Millie, 2002
Off Broadway and Beyond
from “Uptown, Downtown,” her one-woman autobiographical musical
Leslie Uggams singing Sondheim, because…why not?