Leslie Uggams
Uggams in 1997
Leslie Marian Uggams

(1943-05-25) May 25, 1943 (age 80)
EducationJuilliard School
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1951–present
Known forKizzy Reynolds – Roots
Grahame Pratt
(m. 1965)

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 as Blind Al in Deadpool (2016), its 2018 sequel and the upcoming 2024 third film, as well as a recurring role on Empire.

Life and career

Early life

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,[citation needed] who was a singer with the Hall Johnson choir.[3] She attended the Professional Children's School of New York and Juilliard.[3][4] Her aunt, singer Eloise C. Uggams, encouraged her musical training.[5] One of her grandfathers was Coyden H. Uggams, twice pastor of Zion Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, from 1902 to 1906 and 1913 to 1919.[6]

Early work

Uggams started in show business as a child in 1951, playing the niece of Ethel Waters on Beulah. That same year she appeared as a featured performer at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, alongside Ella Fitzgerald. She made her professional debut at the age of six on Jack Barry's NBC show "Stars And Stardust." Following that, she performed on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts". 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.[3] 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.[7] 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

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.[8] She had a lead role in the 1977 miniseries Roots, for which she received an Emmy nomination, as Kizzy.[9] In 1979, she starred as Lillian Rogers Parks in the Emmy-winning miniseries Backstairs at the White House. 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.[3] She won a 1983 Daytime Emmy Award as a host of the NBC game show Fantasy.[10]

In her first film, she was neither seen, nor credited. In Inherit the Wind (1960), she sang the opening, (Gimme Dat) Old Time Religion, and the closing, Battle Hymn of the Republic. 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.[11] She later appeared in Sugar Hill (1994) opposite Wesley Snipes, and played Blind Al in Deadpool (2016) in February 2016.[12] 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.[13]

She is an active Democrat and hosted a 1984 Democratic Telethon.[14] In 1999 and 2021, she guest starred in two episodes of Family Guy. Additionally, she is also slated to reprise her role as Blind Al in Deadpool 3.

In 2023, Uggams voiced a character, Grandma, in My Dad the Bounty Hunter.[15]


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.[16] She won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical (in a tie with Patricia Routledge).[17] 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.[18] 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.[19] Later Broadway roles include Muzzy in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003–2004) and Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond at the Kennedy Center in 2004[20] and on Broadway at the Cort Theatre in 2005.[21] In 2001, she appeared in the August Wilson play King Hedley II,[22] receiving a nomination for the Tony Award, Best Actress in a Play.[23] 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.[24] In June 2012, Uggams played Muzzy in a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at The Muny in St. Louis.[25] In 2014, she starred as Rose in Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Nutmeg Summer Series production of Gypsy.

Personal life

Uggams has been married to her longtime manager Grahame Pratt since 1965, at the time a rare high-profile interracial marriage. “It was not as hard as I expected it to be,” Uggams says. “I think the reason is that Grahame was not an American white man. But of course we did get mail.”[26] Uggams met her husband at the Professional Children's School of New York, where they were both students. The couple met again while she was performing in Sydney during one of Uggams's celebrity tours in Australia and he became her manager afterward.[27] After their wedding, the couple decided to reside in New York, which was then more tolerant of interracial relationships.[4] The couple are parents to daughter Danielle, born in 1970, and son Justice, born in 1975.[26][27]



Year Title Role Notes
1962 Two Weeks in Another Town Chanteuse
1972 Skyjacked Lovejoy Wells
Black Girl Netta
1975 Poor Pretty Eddie Elizabeth 'Liz' Wetherly
1993 Sugar Hill Doris Holly
2009 Toe to Toe Grandma
2014 Just the Three of Us Regina Short film
2016 Deadpool Blind Al All Def Movie Award for Best Superhero Token Sidekick
2018 Deadpool 2 Blind Al
2021 The Ravine Joanna Los Angeles Film Award for Best Ensemble
2022 Nanny Kathleen
Dotty & Soul Dotty
2023 American Fiction Agnes
2024 Deadpool 3 Blind Al Filming[28]


Year Title Role Notes
1966 Hullabaloo Herself Host of weekly variety show, January 10
1966 The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Natasha Brimstone Episode: "The Jewels of Topango Affair"
1967 I Spy Tonia Episode: "Tonia"
1969 The Leslie Uggams Show Herself 10 episodes
1970 Swing Out, Sweet Land Saloon Singer TV special
1972 The Mod Squad Dina Lane Episode: "Kill Gently, Sweet Jessie"
1974 Marcus Welby, M.D. Laurie Williams Episode: "Feedback"
1977 Roots Kizzy Reynolds Miniseries
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series (1977)
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama (1977)
1979 Backstairs at the White House Lillian Rogers Parks Miniseries
1981 Sizzle Vonda Television film
1982–1984 Fantasy Host Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series (1983)
Nominated — Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series (1984)
1984 Magnum, P.I. Alexis Carter Episode: "Paradise Blues"
1987 Hotel Amanda Price Episode: "Discoveries"
1981–1987 The Love Boat Callie Reason, Leslie Uggams, Marion Blake 3 episodes
1991 The Cosby Show Kris Temple Episode: "The Return of the Clairettes"
1993 A Different World Dr. Eileen Redding Episode: "College Kid"
1995 Under One Roof Geneva Episode: "Secrets"
1996 All My Children Rose Keefer October 15 – December 11, 1996
Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series (1996)
2011 Memphis Beat Estelle Episode: "Troubled Water"
2011 The Good Wife Suzanne Packer Episode: "Death Row Tip"
2015 Nurse Jackie Vivian 3 episodes
2016–2020 Empire Leah Walker 21 episodes
2017 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Sadie Television film
2021 The Bite Dr. Hester Boutella 3 episodes
2021 Family Guy Herself Episode: "The Birthday Bootlegger"
2019–2022 New Amsterdam Mama Reynolds 5 episodes
2023 Extrapolations Isabel Zucker 2 episodes
2023 My Dad the Bounty Hunter Grandma Voice
2024 Fallout Upcoming series


Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Results Ref.
2016 All Def Movie Awards Best Superhero Token Sidekick Deadpool Won [30]
1983 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series Fantasy Won
1984 Nominated
1977 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama Roots Nominated [31]
2021 Los Angeles Film Awards Best Ensemble The Ravine Won [32]
1996 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series All My Children Nominated
2009 Ovation Awards Lead Actress in a Musical Stormy Weather Nominated [33]
1977 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series Roots Nominated [34]
1967 Theatre World Awards Hallelujah, Baby! Won [35]
1968 Tony Awards Best Leading Actress in a Musical Won[a] [36]
2001 Best Leading Actress in a Play King Hedley II Nominated [37]
2007 TV Land Awards Anniversary Award Roots Nominated

Honorary Degrees



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  6. ^ Simms, Lois Averetta (1987). A history of Zion, Olivet, and Zion-Olivet churches, 1850-1985, Charleston, South Carolina. L.A. Simms. pp. 3–4, 35. OCLC 21410845. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
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  14. ^ Mathews, Jay (May 28, 1983). "Democrats Hope to Get $6 Million in Telethon". The Washington Post.
  15. ^ Oddo, Marco Vito (November 16, 2022). "'My Dad the Bounty Hunter' Trailer Makes Catching Space Criminals a Family Business". Collider. Archived from the original on January 15, 2023. Retrieved February 16, 2023.
  16. ^ Siegel, Naomi (October 24, 2004). "Theater Review; Of Its Moment: 1967". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Tony Awards, 1968" Archived April 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine broadwayworld.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012
  18. ^ Rich, Frank (December 19, 1985). "Theater: 'Jerry's Girls,' A Musical Entertainment" The New York Times.
  19. ^ Nemy, Enid (March 17, 1989). "On Stage" The New York Times.
  20. ^ Jones, Kenneth (October 2, 2004). "James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams Open in 'On Golden Pond' Oct. 2". Playbill. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  21. ^ Jones, Kenneth (April 7, 2005). "Jones and Uggams Face Facts of Family Life in Broadway Return of 'On Golden Pond' " Archived July 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Playbill.
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