Diahann Carroll set a standard for black actresses on television with her turns on Julia and Dynasty. And even on stage where she grew from the Bronx to win a Tony Award and nab an Academy Award nomination for Claudine. A new generation learned of her talents through her portrayal of Whitley Gilbert’s mother on A Different World.
A trailblazer and icon, Carroll passed away on Friday morning. She was 84. She died at her home in Los Angeles after a bout with cancer.
She starred as Julia Baker, a widowed nurse raising a young son on the 1968 NBC comedy and only took the role after the veteran screenwriter who created the show thought she was too glamorous for the part. She was the first African-American woman to star in a non-stereotypical role in her own primetime network series.
“We were saying to the country, ‘We’re going to present a very upper middle-class black woman raising her child, and her major concentration is not going to be about suffering in the ghetto,’ ” Carroll noted.
When it came to Dynasty, Carroll became another first – the first prominently featured African-American character on a primetime soap opera, the iconic Dominique Devereaux. In Claudine, she played the titular character who balanced raising six children on her own while on welfare. She became the first black woman to win a best actress Tony for her role in No Strings.