This one hurts. For those of us of a certain age, the multi-talented star of stage and screen Diahann Carroll was iconic. Beautiful and incredibly talented, with a unique gravitas to boot, she was a pioneer who stayed a star for multiple generations with an aura of strength, intelligence and poise that was rarely found in an individual. She passes at age 84 after a long battle with breast cancer.
The Bronx, New York-born star was named Carol Diahann Johnson, and was destined to be an artist from early on, singing, dancing and modeling as a teenager. After graduating from NYU, she won a television talent contest for singing the Hammerstein and Kern song, “Why Was I Born?” This began a notable career on stage and in movies throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. She became the first African American woman to win a Tony Award for her role in the play “No Strings.”
Carroll became a major international star for her pioneering work in the NBC sitcom “Julia,” playing a widowed nurse. It dramatically countered the types of roles generally available to African American women at the time, and it did so with a gentle beauty. It became a top 10 show, and the role won several awards for Carroll, also making her the first African American woman to receive an Emmy nomination. A decade later she hit the jackpot again, deliciously conniving her way as Dominique Deveraux on the hit television show “Dynasty.”
In the new century, Carroll continued to move between formats, starring on stage in “Sunset Boulevard” and on television’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” among others.
Carroll faced hardships and unfair obstacles during her illustrious career, but she did so with grace and strength. Godspeed, Diahann Carroll.
Chris Rizik is the publisher of Soul Tracks. He welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank Soul Tracks for sharing this story with us.