Jazz/SF Intersection: Nichelle Nichols and Duke Ellington

It’s more often than you might expect that I find intersections between the worlds of jazz music and SF. John Coltrane read Flash Gordon and other pulps and comics as a kid, and as I discuss in that same post, Sun Ra (and several other jazz musicians) talked about life from the point of view of an alien from another world who was visiting the Earth. (Some others talked more in terms of being “trapped” on the Earth, and there, the sad root of the metaphor probably lies.)

But in happier, more exciting news: my latest find, which maybe is only news to me, is about Nichelle Nichols, who played the groundbreaking and iconic role of Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek series TV programs…

Uhura

… and it turns out that she went to TV only after starting out in jazz. Here’s a pic of her, purportedly during that stage of her career, in 1959:

Jazz Vocalist Nichelle Nichols

The story of how her first public singing performance ended up being with Duke Ellington is pretty amazing. (I’ll post the video below.)

Ms. Nichols also toured as a singer with the pianist Lionel Hampton. She did put out some albums later on, but they were more in a pop music vein; one cannot help but wonder what she sounded like then, or might have sounded like later, had she kept with jazz, or returned to it?

(Then again, who she apparently considered TV a stepping stone toward Broadway, and though she clearly realized what singing with Duke signified, she was also doing other work at the time, from occasional modeling stints (like this unusual one) to working as a backup dancer.)

Here’s the video I promised above, where Nichols tells the story about how she came to sing onstage with Duke: