Someone was bound to say it, “Beam me up, Scotty” and the first someone to say it to me was AdrianS, the remarkable drumming wunderkind of the Ancient Champion band; the sticks segment of the amazing Double A Rhythm Organisation that manages to make Ancient Champion’s music actually work. If I appear so pleasantly surprised by that, that anyone can make it work, well that’s because I am. This piece then is ostensibly about the great starblazer of an actor, Nichelle Nichols, but digression, here, there, everywhere is what I do, practiced, studied at first, changing the subject like a crazed code-switcher, back to anything I know anything about. Studied first, which becomes a habit and then, well, memory fails me but as my memory fails me, and I no longer know why I do half the things I do, there’s that sad moment where the whole charade collapses, I'm no more than an entirely dulling shine. Go grab the T-Cut.
Of course what AdrianS was referring to was the passing of Star Trek superstar, Lieutenant Uhuru, Nichelle Nichols. Generally the modern phrase, passing, phases me, like a phaser on stun. I just think that the people who mainly just stop living for some or other reason, die. Passing is for A roads or gas. But let’s not belabour that here, let’s instead consider life and career of one of the charismatic onscreen characters in the history of television.
There’s a generation and it’s not mine, whose minds got blown by Star Wars and Industrial Light and Magic. Not mine. Ain’t never seen that bro’. Star Trek came to the not so big black and white screen in my living room in ‘67 or so and has been an enduring revelation ever since. Possibly cos Kirk is still knocking about, sounding the same. Most of the exciting action took place on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and revolved around several key characters, Captain Kirk, Spock, Sulu and Uhura - okay Chekov was a deal too, and Bones and Scotty but they were employed elsewhere on the ship. The bridge was a peek into a world embracing a multicultural future, where the simple matter of super destructive racial bigotry had, centuries hence, been resolved. It's gonna take a while. It was a glorious troubled perfect world of slightly short pants, soft looking comfortable footwear, flashing lights, bigscreens and futuristic fabrics of course - why, we rarely if ever saw the Star Trek team in outerwear.
In that world, on that bridge, in the middle of all Kirk’s drama and bathos, Nichelle Nichols managed to exude a plausible, calm authority as a starfleet science officer in space. Probably her previous touring experience with Duke Ellington helped a whole lot with that. It might prepare you for anything, I’d guess. I want you to know that at the time since there were no other Black scientists on the entire media planet, it meant more than just something to discover Uhura in space.
Nichols was a supremely accomplished performer and from her biography, her vision for her Star Trek stint was to beam herself back to Broadway in short order. When Nichols attempted to quit the show after the first season however, none other than MLK convinced her to stay. Star Trek was his favorite show on TV and her role in it, what Uhuru represented, mattered to him because it absolutely mattered.
Star Trek, as the template for the near future of American pop drama broadcasting Klingons too, to this day.
To real life NASA recruiter Nichelle Nichols - Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, super fine actress who brought space, science and the first interracial kiss into the American living room, to the first Black woman in space - finally going nowhere, interstellar salutations.
Main image from Wikipedia.