Diahann Carroll has accomplished several high marks over the course of her long career, including becoming the first Black woman to win a Tony Award. Today is the glamorous actress’ birthday.
Carol Diahann Johnson was born on this day in 1935 in The Bronx, and raised primarily in Harlem. She attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and was a classmate of Billy Dee Williams. At 15, Carroll began modeling for Ebony magazine, leading to a number of professional shoots while her parents helped support her entertainment dreams with dance and singing classes.
That training paid off in 1954 when Carroll, then 18, made a big splash on the talent competition show, Chance Of A Lifetime taking the top prize and the top slot for four weeks. The show increased her visibility by way of gigs at some of New York’s top performing venues. That same year, Carroll made her film debut in Carmen Jones and began performing on Broadway. In 1962, she became the first Black woman to win a Tony Award for her role in the No Strings musical.
Carroll’s next big break occurred in 1968 with the debut of “Julia,” the first show starring a Black actress in a lead role that was not one of a domestic servant or the like. In 1968, Carroll won a Golden Globe for “Best Actress In A Television Series” and was nominated for an Emmy the following year. In 1984, Carroll joined the cast of the hit drama Dynasty in the role of Dominique Deveraux, joining her former classmate Williams on the show.
In 1989, Carroll earned an Emmy nod for her recurring role on A Different World as Marion Gilbert, the mother of Jasmine Guy’s character, Whitley Gilbert-Wayne. In 1991, she starred in The Five Heartbeats film opposite of Chuck Patterson, playing Eleanor Potter, the wife of Jimmy Potter.
In a return to the small screen, Carroll shined in her role as Jane Burke, the mother of Dr. Preston Burke, on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy series. She also had a recurring role in USA Network’s White Collar drama that ended in 2014. Along with her Tony and Golden Globe wins, Carroll has been nominated for an Academy Award and is the first Black person to get nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.
Carroll has been married four times and had high-profile relationships with actor Sidney Poitier and talk show host David Frost. Her daughter, Suzanne Kay Bamford, from her marriage to producer/agent Monte Kay, is a filmmaker.
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