Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

Performing with Duke Ellington

Performing with Duke Ellington

More From Nichelle

In this video

Tagged as

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.

Related Videos

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Long before Ruth Bader Ginsburg became only the second woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she broke countless legal and professional barriers for women. Raised in a wo...

Brenda Berkman
Brenda Berkman
First NYC Female Firefighter

Brenda Berkman served the City of New York for 25 years before retiring in 2006 as a captain in its storied Fire Department. Her bravery was twofold: Berkman was summa cum laude gr...

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland
Ballet Dancer

Misty Copeland began her ballet career at age 13. Two years later, she had won first place in the Music Center Spotlight Awards, and began her studies at the Lauridsien Ballet Cent...

Yang Lan
Yang Lan
Chairperson

Yang Lan learned from her resilient grandmother the strength of women and has been using media to show that strength ever since. She made a name for herself as a TV talk show host ...