Diahann Carroll, the first African American actress to win a Golden Globe, has died, and we are all the poorer for it. In her 84 years, she accomplished so much, but for many, she will always be the actress who broke barriers when Richard Rodgers cast her in No Strings.
She was not only beautiful beyond words she epitomized elegance and grace. No Strings was the first musical Rodgers wrote after the death of his partner Oscar Hammerstein. It was a gamble for him not only to compose the melodies that Rouben Mamoulian once described as coming “from God’s lips to his ears,” but to write the lyrics as well.
The show was a long-running hit, which resulted in one of the most underrated scores of all-time including such standards as “The Sweetest Thing” and the title song. Rodgers entrusted the lead to the still unknown Diahann Carroll and she won the Tony as Best Actress that year, the first black woman to win that award. That was 1962.
For the next decade, Diahann could do no wrong. She followed that triumph with Julia, the first television series to star a black woman in a nonstereotypical role, and she was rewarded with a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Television Series in 1969. The show was a huge success and a ratings bonanza for three years.
In 1974 she was given her first starring role in a movie -Claudine, for which she was nominated for both a Golden Globe and the Oscar. After that, she devoted herself to making recordings, most notably the one with Andre Previn, and appearances at nightclubs and in Las Vegas where her act with fourth husband Vic Damone was a staple at Caesar's. She returned to television in 1985 where she brought glamor and dignity to Aaron Spelling’s hit shows Dynasty and The Colbys.
She was married four times, all marriages ending in divorce. The one that might’ve lasted was the one she planned with Sidney Poitier, whom she had met playing opposite in Paris Blues, but he had cold feet and stayed with his wife. She also had a high profile affair with TV host David Frost.
Sadly, her attempted comeback playing opposite Denzel Washington in the Broadway revival of Raisin in the Sun, four years ago, proved too much for her and she had to be replaced.
Diahann may be gone, but her beautiful voice is alive and vibrant when you listen to No Strings. No-one in recent memory was as versatile as this shimmering beauty.
Rest in peace, Diahann.