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MAKERS Moment

Performing with Duke Ellington

Performing with Duke Ellington

More From Nichelle

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Nichols remembers when Duke Ellington gave her a career-altering chance.

Nichelle 's Biography

An Early Start: At age 5, Nichols fell in love with performing while singing for her parents and their friends. She booked her first professional gig at age 14.
Creative Stamp: Nichols came up with the name for her legendary “Star Trek“ character Uhura, a play on the Swahili word “uhuru” which means “freedom.”
Where No Woman Had Gone Before: In her work with NASA, Nichols recruited the first female astronaut, Sally K. Ride.  
Biggest Influence: Her father, who taught her about the stars and planets, and “for the simple reason that he never treated me like a child… [he] always took me seriously.” 

Nichelle Nichols is an American actress and singer. As Lieutenant Uhura on the legendary television series Star Trek, Nichols played, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a black woman in television history."
At the tender age of 14, Nichols began her professional singing and dancing career in her hometown of Chicago. As a teenager, she was discovered by Duke Ellington, who hired her to choreograph and perform a ballet for one of his musical suites. She finished the tour as his lead singer. She continued to work as an actress, singer, and dancer in a series of plays and musicals in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles and toured with Lionel Hampton’s band in the U.S. and Europe.
 
When Nichols was cast in Star Trek as Enterprise communications officer Lt. Uhura, she made history not only as one of the first black women featured in a major television series in a non-servant character role, but for breaking a major interracial taboo when she shared a kiss with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in 1968. Though the series was cancelled in 1969, its impact on television history was indelible and Nichols went on to reprise her role in six blockbuster Star Trek movies and to voice Uhura in the animated series.
 
Thanks to her popularity with Star Trek, Nichols also began volunteering her time with NASA, in a highly effective campaign to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency. She served on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, a nonprofit, educational space advocacy organization. She has continued to appear in various television and film roles, returned to singing, and in 1994, she published her autobiography Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. She was awarded her much deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992.

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