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‘I’m proud as can be of my Black ancestry’: Broadway star Carol Channing dies at 97

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Carol Channing

Actress Carol Channing performs at the opening night of her show ‘Razzle Dazzle’ held at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Centre Theatre on July 23, 2004 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Iconic stage personality Carol Channing, who was best known for her role as Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” has died at 97.

According to Variety, Tuesday, her publicist B. Harlan Boll wrote in a statement, “It is with extreme heartache, that I have to announce the passing of an original Industry Pioneer, Legend and Icon — Miss Carol Channing. Saying good-bye is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I know that when I feel those uncontrollable urges to laugh at everything and/or nothing at all, it will be because she is with me, tickling my funny bone.”

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Although she had a legendary career on stage, Channing made a few films as well. Most notable was the onscreen musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” with Julie Andrews, which brought Channing an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe.

But what longtime fans may not know is that even though the effervescent star was white-passing she actually had Black ancestry that she was proud of.

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According to BroadwayBlack, it wasn’t till she was headed off to college that her mother revealed their family secret about their race. Channing discovered that her paternal grandmother was listed as ‘colored’ on her birth certificate making her father, George Channing, a Black German-American. Her mother explained to her that she felt the need to tell her the news in her adulthood because she didn’t want her to be surprised if “she had a Black baby.”

“I know it’s true the moment I sing and dance,” Channing said of the shocking revelation. “I’m proud as can be of [my black ancestry]. It’s one of the great strains in show business. I’m so grateful. My father was a very dignified man and as white as I am. My [paternal] grandparents were Nordic German, so apparently I [too] took after them [in appearance]”

Channing won several lifetime achievement awards over the years and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981. Known for her trademark bright smile she worked well in entertainment well into her 90’s.

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