#RespectYourElders: “There’s never been anything that can hold me back.” That’s what former “Star Trek” star Nichelle Nichols said in a recent interview about her lifelong love of performing. Nichols (born 1932) recently spoke to the Los Angeles Times about what she’s been up to since “Star Trek” first aired, upcoming projects and what she’d like for her 85th birthday.
A Chicago native, Nichols began her career as a singer and dancer, studying in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. She also traveled internationally as a singer with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton’s bands.
When “Star Trek” launched in 1966, Nichols was one of few leading black actresses on television. She initially considered leaving the show because she wanted to pursue a Broadway career, but a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed her mind. Nichols recalled in a TV Academy Foundation interview that he told her how important it was for a show with a leading African-American character to continue running. He said, “For the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing and dance, yes, but who can go into space, who can be lawyers and teachers, who can be professors — who are in this day, yet you don’t see it on television until now.”
Ultimately, Nichols stayed on Star Trek in her role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. She inspired millions of young viewers of all races during the show’s original three-season run and has continued to be an inspiration in the decades following.
Nichols has also found success as a musician. She released two albums, “Down to Earth” in 1967 and “Out of This World” in 1991. In addition to performing, she is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., has received an honorary doctorate degree from Los Angeles Mission College and even had an asteroid named after her: 68401 Nichols.
Today, Nichols’ passion for performing, both as a musician and an actress, continues to thrive. She recently completed filming the sci-fi film “Unbelievable!!!!!” with 40 of her former Star Trek co-stars. She will also play a leading role in the upcoming film “Noah’s Room,” which depicts a black family that takes in a white youth after he experiences abuse in the foster care system.
As for what she wanted for her 85th birthday, Nichols said, “I just want to keep on keeping on. I love what I do.” Read Nichols’ interview with the LA Times here.