Interview by Paul Salfen
Nichelle Nichols is an actor most known for her role as Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the original television Star Trek series, but most people don’t realize before that ground breaking part (Lieutenant Uhura was eventually promoted to Commander) she sang with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. When she considered leaving the series, no less than Martin Luther King asked her to remain. Paul Salfen asked her a few questions about that before her Austin appearance.
Paul: Wizard World is a great event for fans to meet their heroes. After all of these years, you still really enjoy meeting the fans, don’t you?
Nichelle Nichols: The fans are why we’re all here. I love their excitement, their stories, their energy. It’s amazing to see a legacy like Star Trek has build become such a part of the culture.
Paul: What is the greatest compliment that your fans give you at these shows?
Nichelle Nichols: I get a little choked up when I see men and women with amazing careers in science, space, technology, come and say that it was our little show that inspired them to do such amazing things. No, you are an inspiration to all of us.
Paul: Do you enjoy seeing girls dressed as Uhuru?
Nichelle Nichols: I love it!
Paul: And what do you say to those little girls looking up to you?
Nichelle Nichols: You can do anything, and you already know that, don’t you? So, go get started!
Paul: Of course people always ask about Star Trek, but what about singing with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton? That must have been amazing.
Nichelle Nichols: Music was, and is, my deepest passion. To have had a chance to sing alongside greats like them are some of my happiest memories.
Paul: And Martin Luther King asked you to stay on Star Trek when you considered leaving?
Nichelle Nichols: He didn’t so much ask, as he did declare that I simply couldn’t leave the show. What people saw in my role was too important for what was going on that time. And, you don’t exactly say no to Dr. Martin Luther King…
Paul: Who knew that your time on Star Trek would lead to working with NASA?
Nichelle Nichols: Well, someone should have asked me, I could have told you! I saw a problem, a lack of outreach to women and people of color, and knew just how to solve it.
Paul: You had a health scare that worried everyone. How are you feeling now?
Nichelle Nichols: The health scare in a way helped me focus on some important things in my life. Exercising more, enjoying time with friends and family, and enjoying time with the fans. It’s been a great few years since then.
Paul: You’ve since returned to television triumphantly. Have you enjoyed that?
Nichelle Nichols: It’s why I’m in show biz! I always have to be creating. You’re actually going to see me, and hear my voice, in a few new projects coming out in the next year.
Paul: Of all the historic moments you’ve been involved in, which one stands out the most?
Nichelle Nichols: I can’t pick any one, but all of the time I’ve spend with Dr. Mae Jemison is some of the most valuable memories.