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Never mind the Shatner, the ‘Star Trek’ cast member with the golden voice was Nichelle Nichols

May the gods eternally bless Rhino Records for so many reasons, but one of that label’s greatest contributions to weird society was the Golden Throats series of compilation albums. It endeavored—and largely succeeded—at bringing wide attention to one of my favorite vinyl collectibles sub-obsessions: celebrities not known for singing who nonetheless and against all reason recorded albums on which they sang, often very, very poorly. Adding to the kitsch appeal of the phenomenon, these albums were usually lounge or easy listening, and were often recorded in total earnest.

Notably, key Star Trek cast members William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were disproportionally represented on those Rhino comps, appearing on all four installments in the series, and scoring four tracks between them on the first one alone. Shatner’s stilted cover songs have become legendary on the basis of just one completely bonkers album, 1968’s The Transformed Man which manages to be a major head-trip both intentionally AND accidentally. Nimoy released about a half-dozen musical albums, a couple of which are Trek themed affairs on which he sometimes sings in-character as Spock, which have moments that approach the outsidery awesomeness of the Shatner LP. The rest are straightforward folk-pop albums, which are unironically not half bad at all.

Sadly, DeForest Kelley never made a musical LP, so it’s impossible to collect a complete discography of Trek’s archetypal Freudian trio. HOWEVER, there was more music to be found on the bridge: the recordings of Nichelle “Lt. Uhura” Nichols were totally neglected by Rhino when they assembled the Golden Throats comps (probably because she was actually really good). Between 1967 and 1991, she released three full lengths (sort of), two 7” singles, and an EP. Before she blazed a massively important trail for non-servile representation of African-American women on broadcast TV, Nichols sang with both Duke Ellington’s and Lionel Hampton’s bands, and she debuted as a solo recording artist with 1967’s Down to Earth. The title was an obvious nod to her stellar day job, and fittingly, the music was anything but cosmic. It’s a lightly jazzy lounge pop album, typical of its time, and loaded with standards and showtunes.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Trekkie!

Actress Nichelle Nichols tells the lovely story of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to remain on Star Trek after she had decided to leave the series for Broadway:

I was going to leave “Star Trek,” and [creator] Gene Roddenberry says, “You can’t do that. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to achieve? Take the weekend and think about it.” He took the resignation and stuck it in his desk drawer….

As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.”

I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young “Star Trek” fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….”

I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”

I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? 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, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”

I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not a Black role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”

At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said:  The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.

Come Monday morning, I went to Gene. He’s sitting behind that same dang desk. I told him what happened, and I said, “If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.” He looked at me, and said, “God bless Dr. Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I am coming from.” I said, “That’s what he said.” And my life’s never been the same since, and I’ve never looked back. I never regretted it, because I understood the universe, that universal mind, had somehow put me there, and we have choices. Are we going to walk down this road or the other? It was the right road for me.

TV’s first interracial kiss—between Nichols and William Shatner—also occurred on Star Trek. America celebrates Martin Luther King Day on January 21.

Below, an excerpt from a much longer interview with Nichelle Nichols—who also toured with Duke Ellington as a vocalist—in the archive of The TV Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television, on YouTube

Via Media Post

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment