As the world mourns the loss of veteran stage and screen actress Carol Channing, several facts about her life are coming to the surface. Chief among those facts is that Channing’s father was half-Black, something that the late star was quite proud of.
Channing was born January 31, 1921 in Seattle to a white mother and half-German and Black father who could pass for white. Channing, who was raised in San Francisco, didn’t learn about her heritage until she was 16 and reading to head East to college. Her mother informed her that her grandmother was a Black woman so that Channing wouldn’t be blindsided by the appearance of any future children. Channing later shared that she was proud of this part of her bloodline and that it may have informed her singing and dancing talents.
At Vermont’s Bennington College, Channing honed her skills in dancing and acting. In the ’40s, she made her way to Broadway and had her first big break in 1949 in the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Despite that, It took time before Channing found herself on the Broadway big stages again. In 1964, she took the stage world by storm with her Tony Award-winning role as Dolly Levi in the blockbuster, “Hello, Dolly!”
She then took several key roles on the big screen, most notably her Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe Award-winning turn in Thoroughly Modern Millie opposite Julie Andrews. While other roles came and went, Channing was forever connected to the character of Dolly Levi, playing her over 5,000 times in revivals of the play. She also starred in iconic television shows such as Sesame Street, among others.
In 1970, Channing became the first celebrity to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Also in the early ’70s, she was named a political enemy of President Richard Nixon, which she called one of the biggest honors in her long career. In 1995, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, and continued to perform and dance well into her 90’s.
Channing, who was married four times, is survived by her son, Channing Lowe, who is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated cartoonist.
Carol Channing was 97.
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