Breaking down barriers is nothing new for Leslie Uggams.

The Emmy–winning actress joined one of the first African-American TV shows, ‘Beulah,’
at age 6, sang at NYC’s Apollo Theater at age 9, married a white man at a time when interracial marriages were still illegal in parts of the U.S. and, in 1968, won a Tony for her first Broadway musical, ‘Hallelujah, Baby!’

She soon became the first African-American woman to host a TV variety show, but most remember
her for her wrenching role as the slave Kizzy Kinte in the 1977 miniseries Roots.

leslie uggams 'roots'

Leslie on ‘Roots’ in 1977.

Leslie found time to be a devoted mother by bringing her manager hubby, Grahame Pratt, now 78, their daughter, Danielle, and son, Justice, on the road with her. “I believe in family,” Leslie shares with ‘Closer’. “It keeps you grounded.”

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And at age 71, she may need grounding, with new roles on Showtime’s ‘Nurse Jackie’ and the ‘X-Men’ spin-off, ‘Deadpool.’ “I also believe in taking risks,” she explains, “and I just keep on keepin’ on!” Read her Q&A interview with ‘Closer’ below.

leslie uggams family

Leslie with her husband and two children in September 2003.

  • Was showbiz always in your blood?

My father was in a choir that did a lot of movies and my mother was a Cotton Club dancer for a time. I started singing when I was 3, so I took tap, acting and singing at a family friend’s school.

  • How’d you become an Apollo regular at age 9?

There was a young talent radio contest I kept winning. They could not get rid of me, so they decided to pay for an act. My first gig was with Louis Armstrong. It was magic watching him.

To read the full story on Leslie, pick up the new issue of ‘Closer Weekly,’ on newsstands now!