Broadway star Leslie Uggams never allowed the laws or societal norms to restrict her decisions. The first black woman to host a TV variety show, Uggams married a white man. Decades later, their beautiful marriage and successful kids become an inspiration. Meet them.
Over the years, the ever-youthful Leslie Uggams has consolidated her mark in Hollywood, earning a Tony and Emmy Award for her creativity and passion.
Her pursuit of a successful career began at age six when she appeared on stage, performing at the Apollo Theater in "Harlem" and for notable singers like Ella Fitzgerald.
Leslie Uggams speaks during the panel discussion at the PBS portion of the 2014 Winter Television Critics Association tour at Langham Hotel on January 21, 2014 | Source: Getty Images
Later, she ventured into Broadway and captivated her audience with her astonishing brilliance in "Hallelujah, Baby!" Soon, the Broadway wiz progressed to TV and gained recognition starring as Kizzy in Alex Haley's outstanding TV mini-series, "Roots."
Today, Uggams, an iconic actress and singer is part of the Board of Directors of the Apollo Theater, has an honorary doctorate from the University of Connecticut, and has also acquired the American Artist Award from Arena Stage in Washington, DC.
Away from her professional life is her perfectly structured family life. Uggams, of African-American descent, married an Australian man, and as expected, they faced racial discrimination.
The award-winning actress confessed that coming from an African-American family affected people's opinions, including those of her family, about her choice of husband.
Uggams schooled in a mixed school as a young girl, sharing classrooms with white students. She never considered staying away and even had a white boyfriend.
However, when she got home and shared the details of her romance with an aunt, the older adult told Uggams that she could date a white man but never marry one.
Uggams could not make sense of the discrimination in her family. Years later, she chose to follow her heart and married the love of her life, creating a fairytale happy ending with her husband of fifty-six years and their two kids.
HOW LESLIE UGGAMS MET THE LOVE OF HER LIFE
In 1964, Uggams' singing talents led her out to the shores of Australia, and that was where she met Grahame Pratt, her future husband.
The young, good-looking Australian was present at Chequers nightclub in Sydney. Once the singer left the stage, he scurried backstage to introduce himself and, later on, his parents to Uggams.
Leslie Uggams and Husband Grahame Pratt during Actors Studio Party - November 25, 1968 at Village Gate in New York City, New York, United States. | Source: Getty Images
Pratt and his family invited Uggams and Juanita, her mother/travel companion, to their home. Soon, the singer's friendship metamorphosed; her new friend often visited, leading her to fall in love. Speaking about how she honored the Australian's invite. Uggams said:
"I don't know why I ever agreed to join them for yet another drink, but I did. I reckon I must have liked his style. I remember thinking he was English, not Australian."
Thankfully the feeling was mutual. The following year, during another trip to the country, the Aussie proposed marriage!
Leslie Uggams and her Australian husband Graham Pratt pictured at Mascot. September 27, 1966. | Source: Getty Images
The actress was excited and ready to spend her life with her lover but struggled to get three problems that faced the union off her mind. First, it was an interracial marriage that was somewhat sacrilegious at the time and was illegal in about sixteen states in the US.
These states were Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Oklahoma, and Georgia.
Grahame Pratt and Leslie Uggams at the 18th Annual Tribeca Film Festival 2019 Opening Night Screening Of "The Apollo" | Source: Getty Images
Then, Uggams was worried about their future because she planned on working in show biz and knew that the celebrity lifestyle did not quite favor long marriages.
Lastly, they considered Pratt's future. The singer wanted her husband to relocate to America because it would be impossible for her to work while in his hometown.
Despite facing these obstacles and other possible future problems like the issues their biracial kids might deal with, Uggams dismissed the concerns and decided to agree—love was the compelling factor. She once said:
"I love him, and I want to be Mrs. Pratt."
Pratt was also very open to his lover. He admitted that he shared similar prejudices, but they wore off. What influenced this was the fear of competing. According to him:
"I hadn't wanted to compete with a colored man for a white woman - which is probably the most gutless feeling any human can have."
The couple were engaged for five months and thought about testing the waters before their marriage. So Pratt visited his future-in-laws, and the unexpected happened! They welcomed him with open arms, like one of their own. While recalling the incident, the singer said:
"You can imagine how I felt when, after they got to know one another, my father told me he couldn't hope for a better son-in-law."
Pratt settled in really quickly too. He was cordial with the family and Uggams's friends. This made it easier for him to endear himself to them. Uggams revealed:
"The thing about Grahame is that he is a real Australian, a man's man. Heavens knows there are few enough of them around these days - especially in the circles we mix in."
Pratt was not the only one who loved the African American community. His mother and Juanita had an inseparable bond for years after the traveling companion asked her in-law to visit following the death of Pratt's dad.
Many years after Pratt enchanted her community with his humility and affection, the "Deadpool" star admitted that her longtime partner possesses peculiar traits. According to her:
"He's smart and witty and fearless."
THE COUPLE FACED RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
After their marriage, Uggams was thrilled that none of the problems she had envisaged threatened their marriage. Her husband was fulfilled with his new home, and no one voiced racial slurs around them.
However, they witnessed discrimination in varying degrees. Uggams explained that sometimes while touring around the country, she would get letters. She said:
"I remember I got one in Detroit, of all places. It came to the club addressed to 'The Little Negro Entertainer.' They're always addressed something like that, and they're not pleasant to read."
Actress and singer Leslie Uggams poses on the red carpet with her family during the "Empire" & "Star" Celebrate FOX's New Wednesday Night at One World Observatory on September 23, 2017 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images
This never seemed to bother her much; all she wished for at the time was that her kids should not face such humiliations. In her words:
"I just hope that when we do have children and by the time they grow up America will have fewer nuts writing those sort of letters."
Leslie Uggams and husband Graham pose at The Opening Night Arrivals for "Sylvia" on Broadway at The Cort Theatre on October 27, 2015 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images
Pratt also witnessed racism firsthand. The couple was safest where they lived, but they faced discrimination whenever they traveled, especially to the states where their marriage was illegal.
In recounting Pratt's experience, she added: "I remember also receiving a letter from Detroit that was addressed to Grahame. It said he was going to have "polka-dot children" and used the N-word. You don't want to get mail like that, but it didn't make me frightened—or him. People outside, that's their opinion. It's ignorance."
THE TRAGEDY IN THE COUPLE'S LIFE AND VIEWS ON HAVING KIDS
Leslie Uggums Pictured with Australian husband Graham Pratt and 4 year old Daughter Danielle. February 01, 1975.
Once they settled down, the couple began planning for a larger family. They created a nursery in their new home, and Pratt, who found a job in a New York brokerage, could not wait to welcome tiny versions of himself. He said:
"I'm going to make [expletive] sure they have the right education. I want our boys to go to my school, Scots College in Sydney."
While Pratt bragged about having his male kids study in Sydney, his wife chose the US as where the girls would go to school.
Unfortunately, on the first attempt, the couple lost their baby. However, they got through the tragedy and were more than confident to try again.
After the loss, Uggams claimed that they could not be any happier having each other as a support system, adding that: "Losing our baby was terrible, of course. But it's wonderful to know that there is still hope that we can have others."
WHO ARE THE ACTRESS' KIDS?
Leslie Uggams and family during Jurassic Park 3 New York Premiere - July 7, 2001 at Sony Lincoln Square Theater in New York City, New York, United States. | Source: Getty Images
Uggams was well-equipped as a mother and wife despite being a busy bee. She ensured to tag her kids and husband along on tours, never leaving anyone behind.
The mother-of-two explained that this has helped her maintain a close-knit bond with her offspring, and in turn, her family has kept her intact. According to Uggams:
"I believe in family. It keeps you grounded."
On the other hand, her choices as a mother provided her kids with balance. They are doing well in their respective fields and making their parents proud while she continues to share a closeness with them.
Like her mother, Danielle believes in family. She is married to Keith Chambers and resides in New York. Uggams's firstborn also inherited her musical and theatrical skills; she has a few incredible features in her resumè.
Her brother, Justice, is an actor noted for "Crossing Jordan," "Girlfriends," and "1275 Clayton." Today, Uggams is a fulfilled mother, wife, ageless actress, and singer, and her groundbreaking marriage proves that love conquers all!