Museum News

Statement on the Life and Legacy of Actress Diahann Carroll

October 9, 2019
Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

Spencer Crew, interim director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, released the following statement today, Oct. 8, on the death of award-winning actress Diahann Carroll.

“It is with deep sadness that we at the National Museum of African American History and Culture mourn the passing of Diahann Carroll. In a career that spanned more than half a century, she made important contributions. America saw her excel in many spheres of entertainment: on the silver screen in Claudine opposite James Earl Jones, on the Broadway stage in Agnes of God and on the nighttime soaps as the glamorous, mixed-race Dominique Deveraux in Dynasty.

She was also a trailblazer. As “Julia” in 1968, she captured attention — and respect — as the first black actress to star in her own tv series and the first nominated for a comedic-lead Emmy. With this role as a widowed nurse employed as an assistant in the office of a white doctor, she gave viewers a new image of the working black woman at a time when black actresses were most often cast as domestics. Julia was the first TV show to depict a black middle-class family and Carroll was its sophisticated focal point.

But more than a decade before she made history with Julia, she appeared on tv, in night clubs and in feature films not as an actress but as a singer with a captivating voice — silver-toned, polished, elegant. In 1954, at the age of 18, she won the $1,000 top prize on the televised Chance of a Lifetime talent show singing the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein classic Why was I born? After four consecutive wins on that show, she became a fixture on the nightclub scene in New York and beyond. In 1962, she won a Tony Award for best actress, a first for a black woman, for her role in the Broadway musical No Strings.

Carroll will be remembered and revered for her dynamic performances, her courage and her success in fighting one of the toughest battles in show business — typecasting. She made her mark and broadened the playing field for many entertainers of color. For that we, as a nation, can be grateful.”

 

About the National Museum of African American History and Culture 
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 6 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.

Media Contact(s): 

Jermaine House (202) 633-9495; housej@si.edu 
Jason Spear (202) 633-9904; spearj@si.edu

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all.