Q&A with Diahann Carroll on The Lady, The Music, The Legend

September 13th, 2010

Diahann Carroll

On Thursday, Inside Thirteen had the opportunity to speak with legendary actress/singer Diahann Carroll, who discussed her extraordinary career and her new PBS concert, Diahann Carroll: The Lady, The Music, The Legend.

In 1968, Ms. Carroll gained the distinction of being the first African American actress in television history to star in her own series, Julia.  Ms. Carroll is also an Academy Award nominee (1974 Best Actress for her work on Claudine), Tony Award winner (for the Broadway production of No Strings), and two-time Emmy nominee (for her work on Julia and A Different World).  She is also a breast cancer survivor and activist, and is featured in the upcoming cancer documentary, 1 a Minute.

Taped at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs, California, Diahann Carroll: The Lady, The Music, The Legend will feature Carroll’s most famous songs, reflecting the many roles she has played throughout the years.

The concert will premiere on Tuesday,  September 14 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN, and on Wednesday, September 15 at 8 p.m. on WLIW21.

Inside Thirteen: What has been your favorite role of your career? Why? Julia was such a groundbreaking role, does that stand out for you?

Diahann Carroll: It’s very hard to pick a favorite role, because there are so many facets to each role. I think it’s intriguing once you become a part of the character that you’re building for many different reasons. I’m happy to say I don’t think I’ve had to create a character that I really did not enjoy building in my head. Most of them I’ve enjoyed, including something as frivolous as Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty, the television series. Some of the heavier roles are Claudine, that’s the one for which I was nominated as Best Actress, and I loved that for many different reasons than Julia. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the challenges that I’ve had to face as an actress for so many different reasons, it’s hard to select one.

IT: Your career has spanned film, television, and theater. Do you feel most comfortable in one of those mediums?

DC: Those mediums each have their own challenges for the actor. Being challenged in the work that I love to do is what I enjoy. They are so different that I cannot tell you that I have a preference, I really cannot.

IT: How did you select songs for The Lady, The Music, The Legend?

DC: We went back over about 55 years of music in which I’ve participated and selected the things that I’ve enjoyed doing, some of them for very long periods; some are more recent selections. The ones that were most consistent and keep coming into my repertoire, even after I think I’m finished with them, but you go back, you get them again and you find something new in something you sang 20 years ago. So, the evening is a compilation of that kind of selection of songs. I usually try to pay homage to Sinatra in some way because I feel that he was so important to American popular music, teaching us to enjoy it on a much higher level and presenting it to us on a much higher level. By that, I mean the orchestration sometimes is almost as much a part of his interpretations, and the marriage between the lyrics, the melody, and the orchestration is perfect. Sinatra refined that as much as he refined explaining to us the importance of breathing to do every song to its utmost. All of that, I hope, went into putting this together.

IT: Can you tell us about your upcoming film, 1 a minute? What do you hope viewers will take from the film?

DC: Once it [cancer] becomes a part of one’s life, it’s there forever and it is an experience that, if there’s any way to share something that I may have learned or information that is very pertinent to the care of oneself, I would. We did several pieces after learning that I had cancer, [including] the piece that I did with Connie Chung when I allowed Connie and her staff to follow me through the procedure of radiation. Connie Chung put that together so beautifully so that it explained, maybe it was one of the first, to explain exactly the procedure and the kind of people that take you through it, the technicians as well as the doctors. I think we did accomplish something that is informative – supportive and informative is what we were hoping for.

IT: Is there anything that you would like to share about the concert?

DC: I’m thrilled about the concert. It’s a long journey I’ve made, and I had a wonderful time, and I think that is a part of the concert. I hope people will be able to take that away from watching. Because, I realize there are an awful lot of people for whom my era was over before they were born.  I’m pleased that young people can see what that meant. Night clubs are really where we had a wonderful time. I’m also pleased about two young people in particular seeing it, my grandchildren, who have a bit to learn about what their grandmother did.