Diahann Carroll is an American stage and television actress and singer nown for her performances in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, including Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959) as well as on Broadway. Carroll will portray Joice Heth in The Greatest Showman.
At the age of 18, Carroll got her big break when she appeared as a contestant on the Dumont Television Network program, Chance of a Lifetime, hosted by Dennis James. On the show which aired January 8, 1954, Carroll took the $1,000 top prize for her rendition of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein song, "Why Was I Born?" She went on to win the following four weeks. Engagements at Manhattan's Café Society and Latin Quarter nightclubs soon followed.
Carroll's film debut was a supporting role in Carmen Jones (1954) as a rival to the sultry lead character played by Dorothy Dandridge. That same year, she starred in the Broadway musical, House of Flowers. In 1959, she played Clara in the film version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, but her character's singing parts were dubbed by opera singer Loulie Jean Norman.
In 1962, Diahann won the Tony Award for best actress (a first for a black woman) for the role of Barbara Woodruff in the Samuel A. Taylor and Richard Rodgers musical No Strings.
In 1974, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the film Claudine.
In 2006, she appeared in the television medical drama Grey's Anatomy as Jane Burke, the demanding mother of Dr. Preston Burke. In December 2008, Carroll was cast in USA Network’s series White Collar as June, the savvy widow who rents out her guest room to Neal Caffrey.
In 2010, Carroll was featured in UniGlobe Entertainment's breast cancer docudrama entitled, 1 a Minute, and she appeared as Nana in two Lifetime movies: At Risk and The Front, movie adaptations of two Patricia Cornwell novels.
Diahann was present on stage for the 2013 Emmy Awards, to briefly speak about her retrospective of being the first African American nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. She was quoted as saying, "talented Kerry Washington better win!" Washington erroneously stated that Carroll was the first black performer ever to be nominated for an Emmy. Actually, at least three black performers were nominated before Carroll, who was first nominated in 1963. These performers include: Ethel Waters for a guest appearance on Route 66, in 1962; Harry Belafonte, nominated in 1956 and 1961 and winning in 1960; and Sammy Davis, Jr., who was nominated in 1956 with Belafonte.