Nichelle Nichols (born December 28 1932 in Robbins, Illinois) is an American singer and actress. She sang with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before turning to acting. Her most famous role was playing the communications officer, "Lt Uhura" aboard the USS Enterprise in the popular Star Trek television series, as well as the succeeding motion picture spinoffs, where her character was eventually promoted in Starfleet to the rank of commander.
Nichelle Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois, near Chicago. Her father was both the town mayor of Robbins and its chief magistrate. She has studied in Chicago as well as New York and Los Angeles. During her time in New York, Nichelle appeared at the famous Blue Angel and Playboy Clubs, as a singer. She also appeared in the role of Carmen for a Chicago stock company production of "Carmen Jones."
She has twice been nominated for the Sara Siddon Award as best actress and is an accomplished dancer and singer. Her first Siddon nomination was for her portrayal of Hazel Sharp in "Kicks and Co.," and the second for her performance in "The Blacks."
Nichols toured the United States, Canada and Europe as a singer with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands. On the West Coast, she appeared in "Roar of the Grease Paint, Smell of the Crowd," "For My People," and garnered high praise for her performance in the James Baldwin play, "Blues for Mr. Charlie."
However, it was in Star Trek that Nichols gained popularity by being the first African American woman to be featured in a major television series. However, during the first year of the series, Nichols was tempted to leave the show as she felt her role lacked significance, but a chance and moving meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed her mind. Dr. King personally encouraged her to stay on the show, telling her that he was a fan of the series and told her she "could not give up"... for she was playing a vital role model for young black children and women across the country. After the first season, Uhura's role on the series was expanded beyond just manning the communications console.
In her role as Lt. Uhura, she participated in the first interracial kiss on US television, with Canadian actor William Shatner (as Captain James T. Kirk) in the 1968 Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren". The scene provoked protest and was seen as groundbreaking, even though the kiss was portrayed as having been forced by alien mind control. The episode was not screened in some Southern states as a result of the protests in those states; nevertheless, it caused many viewers to contact the broadcaster and the majority of the feedback of the incident was positive. It was over twenty-five years before it was broadcast on British television.
After the series ended in 1969, Nichols volunteered her time in a special project with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency, which proved to be a spectacular success. They include Dr. Sally K. Ride, the first American female astronaut and USAF Col. Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut, as well as Dr. Judith Resnik and Dr. Ronald McNair, who both flew successful missions during the space shuttle program before they died in the Challenger Accident on January 28,1986.
An enthusiastic advocate of space exploration, Nichols has served since the mid-1980s on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, a nonprofit, educational space advocacy organization founded by Dr. Wernher von Braun.
Always interested in space travel, Nichelle flew aboard NASA's C-141 Astronomy Observatory, which analyzed the atmospheres of Mars and Saturn on an eight hour, high-altitude mission. She was also a special guest at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on July 17, 1976 to view the Viking 1 soft landing on Mars. Along with the other cast members from the original Star Trek series, Nichelle attended the christening of the first space shuttle, Enterprise, at the North American Rockwell assembly facility in Palmdale, California.
Between the end of the original series and the Star Trek animated show and feature films, Nichols starred in minor roles in film and TV. She portrayed a foul-mouthed madam in Truck Turner (1974) opposite Isaac Hayes. She appeared as one of Al Gore's Vice Presidential Action Rangers in an episode of the animated series Futurama.
- Saturn's Child, 1996, ISBN 0441003842
- Saturna's Quest, 2002, ISBN 0971915407
- Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, 1995, ISBN 1572970111