Saturday, 14 December 2013

NICHELLE NICHOLS "DARK SIDE OF THE MOON" (1974)

There's a place where love can't find you
you'll be safe from the warmth of June
You'll never see the spark
that's hidden in your heart
on the dark side of the Moon

There's a place where a kiss won't harm you
where a love song is just a mellow tune
You'll never feel the flame
that only brought you pain
on the dark side of the Moon

Yes, you have to walk alone
face the hard days on your own
A bright glow of love
it will never bother you
there's only shades of blue

There's a place where a dream can't find you
a place where roses never bloom
You'll never see the smile
that made it all worthwhile
on the dark side of the Moon

You'll never see the spark
that was hidden in your heart
on the dark side of the Moon


[From the lyrics of "Dark Side of the Moon"]



It's time to pay homage to the musical output of Nichelle Nichols, so let's start from this lovely 7" EP entitled "Dark Side of the Moon" released by Americana Records in 1974, which at the time of writing has never been re-issued on CD.

As everybody knows, for nearly thirty years Nichelle Nichols has been part of the Star Trek mythos. As Lieutenant Uhura, communications officer of the Starship Enterprise, she was the first African-American to have a major continuing role on television.

While I was gathering information to compile this post I decided to focus on Nichelle Nichols' career outside of Star Trek. Just as I was about to connect, compare and summarize various sources, I came across a very interesting article which presents many of the specific characteristics that I wanted to give to my own writing, enriched by many anecdotes taken from Nichelle Nichols's autobiography. The author of the original post was kind enough to let me republish it here below in a slightly edited form, thank you Doug!


Nichelle Nichols as she appears in the inner gatefold of the "Dark Side of the Moon" EP


Outside the Uhura Sphere: Nichelle Nichols' career outside of Star Trek [original page is available here]

One major problem that faces actors today is the obstacle of rising from obscurity to a level where they are recognized. Once there, actors then face the problem of disassociating themselves from their most famous role or roles in order to move along with their careers.

Nichelle Nichols appears to have faced neither of these problems. She had already embarked upon an impressive career in dancing, singing, and theatrical acting before she took her most famous role on Star Trek.

During and after her "tour of duty" on Star Trek, she continued to broaden her professional career into composing and consciousness-raising with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Nichelle Nichols had a truly impressive career outside of her role as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek.

At the age of thirteen, Nichols was first exposed to her first love in performing: ballet. Her father took her to the Sammy Dyer School of Dancing, convinced by her constant performing around their Robbins, Illinois, home that she had inimitable talent.

While at the School, Nichols studied with Virginia Reilly, a preeminent dancer and instructor of the day. Nichols found that she was well inclined toward the art of ballet, and quickly ascended to the top of her class.

However, the only other student in Chicago that could rival Nichols' skill, Frances Taylor, soon became a professional opponent. Quite an enmity soon developed between the two young girls that would last for many years.

Throughout Nichelle's dance career, she was forced to compete for several positions against the recurrent Taylor, including a spot in the exclusive Katherine Dunham dance troupe.


Nichelle Nichols at fifteen, appearing in "The College Inn Story" show, portraying one of Katherine Dunham's dancers, circa 1947-48

Despite this inconvenience, Nichols continued to progress, and was offered engagements at modern dance performances, including the College Inn Hotel, where she was praised by the distinguished French dancer Josephine Baker and, more importantly, Duke Ellington.

Ellington's comments made the strongest impression on Nichols of any of her experiences at the College Inn. Her encounter with Ellington was to lead to a concert tour with his band, in the future.

While studying with Virginia Reilly, Nichols met Foster Johnson, a talented, if a bit self-absorbed, young man. Johnson was fifteen years older than Nichols at the time, but they fell in love at their first kiss, and all of her parents objections didn't stop her from marrying him in 1951, just after her eighteenth birthday.

While she was performing at the College Inn Hotel, Nichols found it necessary to keep in practice while staying in town, so she joined Carmencita Romero's dance studio, where Afro-Cuban dance was stressed.

As seemed to be her habit, Nichols quickly progresses to the top of her class, and from that point on in her dancing career, Nichols' dance would be influenced by Afro-Cuban mentality and its raw emotion. Truly, Nichelle Nichols dancing career was the envy of many. Her talent provided a springboard on to a star-filled career in show business.


Nichelle Nichols with husband Foster Johnson, while touring with Duke Ellington, 1951

Nichelle's first experience in true show business was with Duke Ellington, whom she had met at the College Inn Hotel. After marrying Foster Johnson, Nichols and he had gone on a song-and-dance tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania. When they returned home, Nichelle was contacted by Duke Ellington's public relations agent and told to meet Ellington at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago for an important meeting.

«I went alone to the Palmer House Hotel, where I was escorted to the Duke's private suite. “I've never forgotten seeing you two years ago in the College Inn show,” he said warmly. “I have composed a new musical suite entitled ‘Monologue Duet and Threesome.' The dancers who have been interpreting my Monologue segment are leaving the tour. Would you be interested in choreographing and performing that dance for me?»

Needless to say, Nichelle was utterly blown away by his proposal. She and Foster took Ellington's dance on tour, where it was a hit all over the Midwest. However, by this time, Nichols' pregnancy was beginning to show and the morning sickness was setting in, so she had decided to go home to her mother.

Then, Foster dropped the bombshell: he was leaving her for twelve weeks of engagements in Montreal. Nichelle had known this was coming, and soon after the birth of her only child, Kyle, she filed for divorce from Foster.


Nichelle Nichols as a Balinesian queen during the filming of 'Porgy and Bess', 1959

She also, however, got on with her career. As fame-filled as her experience with Duke Ellington was, her first big break as a solo song-and-dance star is considered to have come at a Milwaukee night club owned and operated by a rising Midwest Mafia don named Frankie Balistrieri.

Although Nichelle can't remember the name of the club, she remembers the uncomfortable atmosphere she experienced while working there. For example:

«When a male singer tried to seduce me, I gave him the brush-off and sought the safety of a friendly female singer of the show, only to find out that she was a lesbian. Not only that, one of the chorus girls was sweet on her and, mistaking my intentions, threatened to kill me. It was just awful.»

The trouble didn't end with bad cast relations. The night club in which she was performing used to be a strip club, and prostitution and B-drinking were frequently practiced (B-drinking was an old practice where the strippers mixed with the audience to coax male customers into running up a large bar tab.).

Nichols, who had assumed that since the club had been remodeled, it had been placed under new management, was totally naive to these underhanded practices. However, this was not the case. As one former stripper explained, «Leopards don't change their spots…They just change their decor.»

So when first Louie, the bartender and quasi-pimp, then Mr. Balistrieri told her what her "job" was supposed to entail, Nichelle knew that she had to get out. It took several weeks of pleading and lying to "Mr. B" before she was finally released to go to Minneapolis.


Nichelle Nichols, publicity photo, circa late '50s-early '60s

Some years later, Nichelle's booking agent booked her at a Canadian night club. After she got there, she realized that she had been booked at a "smoker"– a "men-only private function." She was respectfully and cordially received by the audience, but as she was being driven home by an important friend of the event's sponsor, he drove her unexpectedly to a cabin in the woods, where he attempted to rape her.

When Nichols forcefully resisted his efforts, he left her there until dawn when the man's law partner showed up and took her to his home, where she slept, then fled to the police. Since the man, whom Nichols prefers not to name, was such an important figure in his community, most people did not believe her story, but the two Mountie detectives sent by the Crown to investigate her case found her story to be valid. The court found Nichelle Nichols' assailant guilty of attempted rape, violent assault, and illegal detention.

As soon as the trial ended, Nichols resolved to put the incident behind her, and went on to open for several prestigious night clubs, such as the Blue Angel in New York, and was offered a part in Pearl Bailey's traveling show, but was put off by Pearl's arrogance and hypocrisy, and turned it down.


Nichelle Nichols as she appeared during her engagements at New York City's clubs 'The Blue Angel" and the "Bon Soir" in the early '60s

The art for which Nichelle Nichols was to become most famous is acting. Her earliest experience in professional drama was in the theater, which Nichols always held as a favorite. Nichols was cast in the Ebony Showcase Theatre's performance of "Nicodemus" and Edna Stewart's "Carnival Island".

While working on the very well-received play, she met Frank Silvera, with whom she had a very loving relationship for six years. Together they produced James Baldwin's semi-autobiographical drama, "The Amen Corner". In it, they managed to cast such stars as Juanita Moore, Maidie Norman, Isabel Sanford, and Beah Richards.

Although the play was hailed by critics and audiences alike, Baldwin, the playwright, hated the production, found it entirely miscast, and demanded its closure, but owing to Nichelle's reasoning, he allowed the play to continue onto Broadway, sans Nichols, who had fallen out of love with Frank, and thought it best to move on.

Since then, Nichols has played in productions like the touring Broadway hit "Horowitz and Mrs. Washington" and was given the honor of being assigned a standby to Diahann Carroll in Richard Rogers' musical "No Strings".


Nichelle Nichols and Burgess Meredith in "Kicks and Company", 1961

Her break came in an appearance in "Kicks and Company", Oscar Brown's highly touted, but ill-fated 1961 musical. In a thinly veiled satire of Playboy magazine, she played Hazel Sharpe, a voluptuous campus queen who was being tempted by the devil and Orgy Magazine to become "Orgy Maiden of the Month".

Although the play closed after its brief try-out in Chicago, in an ironic twist, she attracted the attention of Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, who was so impressed with her appearance that he booked her immediately at his Chicago Playboy Club.

Nichols later returned to theater in 1990 when she performed her one-woman show called "Reflections", in which she portrayed a series of great Black women performers like Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and many more. More recently, she starred as Mother Superior in a production of "Nunsense II" in Denver.


Nichelle Nichols with Don Marshall in her first television role on Gene Roddenberry's 'The Lieutenant', circa 1963-64

Nichols television career brought her even more fame. She appeared in a few episodes of multiple hit show, such as The DA, Ironside and Tarzan, and her first Gene Roddenberry show, The Lieutenant, which led to her role on Star Trek.

In January 1967, Nichols was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine, and had two feature articles in the publication in five years

Nichols has also performed the voices on several popular animated series, such as Spider Man, Batman, Futurama, Gargoyles and The Simpsons. In 1992 she hosted thirteen episodes of a SciFi Channel documentary series entitled "Inside Space".

Alongside her dynamic performances in the Star Trek movies, Nichelle has made several appearances on the big screen, including titles such as "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "Mister Buddwing" (1966), "Doctor, You've Got to be Kidding" (1967), "Truck Turner" (1974) - her first role after Star Trek -, "The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space" (1985) "The Supernaturals" (1986), "Snow Dog" (2002) and "Lady Magdalene's" (2008).

During the '90s, Nichols wrote her autobiography "Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and other memories" and a science-fiction novel entitled "Saturn's Child", which was followed by "Saturna's Quest" in 2002.


Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, circa 1966-67

Needless to say, throughout her acting career, Nichelle's talent has brought her many accolades. These include her two-time nomination for the Sarah Siddons Award for Best Actress, Celebrity of the Week at Walt Disney World in 1991, and her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, awarded on January 9, 1992. She was also the first African American to place her hands in the cement in front of Mann's Chinese theatre.

Throughout her career, Nichols found it necessary to raise the awareness of the nation regarding issues that seemed prevalent to her at the time. These included racism, the space program, and impoverished families.

Nichelle personally encountered racism while attempting to books a room at a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. It struck a chord with her that in a northern, Morman town in the 1970s, race problems would still exist.

Her commitment to the ending of racism in America was one of the determining factors in her assuming the role of Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. It was a powerful statement, seeing an African woman on the bridge of the prestigious Starship Enterprise.


Nichelle Nichols at home, sometimes in the late '60s

Her presence, as George Takei relates, helped to solidify the Starship Enterprise as "a metaphor for starship Earth." However, after one season on the show, she was still the only cast member without a contract and continued to receive prejudicial flak from studio staff, and along with the fact that the Uhura character was remaining largely unfulfilled, Nichelle decided to leave the series.

That very weekend, she attended an NAACP fund-raiser. There she was confronted by a very special Star Trek fan: Dr. Martin Luther King. When she revealed to him her intent to leave the show, Dr. King virtually scolded her.

«You cannot…You have opened a door that must not be allowed to close. I'm sure you have taken a lot of grief, but you changed the face of television forever. You have created a character of dignity and grace and beauty and intelligence. Don't you see that you're not just a role model for little black children? You're more important for people who don't look like us. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people–as we should be... Remember, you are not important there in spite of your color. You are important there because of your color.»

Needless to say, she was deeply moved by Dr. King's remarks. That Monday, she went to Gene Roddenberry and said, "If you still want me, I'll stay." After relating the incident with Dr. King to Gene, he remarked, "God bless that man. At least someone sees what I'm trying to achieve."


Nichelle Nichols soon after Star Trek's cancellation, circa 1970

Since that time Nichelle Nichols' courage in the face of racism has inspired African American icons such as popular comedian Whoopi Goldberg and the first African American women in space, Mae Jamison.

Jamison has more for which to thank Nichelle Nichols than inspiration. In early 1977, Nichelle spear-headed a hugely successful drive to bring women and minorities in to the United States Space Program. It was a speech by the then current NASA director of science, Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer that made Nichelle realize that the American Space program, which is intended to represent out country and our planet, was made up entirely of white males.

Nichols used her position on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society to sway executive opinion that a program to reach out to women and minorities could be feasible and successful. Her private group of performing women, called Women in Motion, Inc. joined forces with NASA to add impetus to the drive. When all was said and done, over twenty-four thousand inquiries were made of NASA regarding the thirty to forty positions available.


Nichelle Nichols receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of fame, early 1992

Another impressive accomplishment by Nichols benefiting NASA was a twenty-minute educational musical entitled "Space: What's In It for Me?". This film, written by Nichols, starred herself as Lieutenant Uhura, who shows a young student around the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Due to all her contributions, NASA presented Nichelle Nichols with the NASA Public Service Award in the fall of 1984.

Another arena in which Nichols is involved is indigent families. To benefit the Family Assistance Program, she, and other celebrities, signed comic books and other memorabilia for auction to raise funds for the education of needy children.

Nichols and other members of Women in Motion, Inc. started a charitable organization called Kwanza that raises funds to provide necessities to disadvantaged families. Most recently, Nichols was a guest celebrity at the Maury Wills Golf Classic to benefit Today's Fresh Start, a program to make education more accessible to those in need. She has also given cabaret performances to benefit Parkinson's Disease research. Nichelle's contributions to society have benefited all aspects of American society.

Nichelle Nichols' career and her contributions to Americana are incomparable. She has broken the mold holding most actors and actresses in a static holding pattern that binds them to their most famous roles. If more performing artists would emulate Nichols, the average dramatic quality put out by the media would be infinitely improved, and we would all live long and prosper.



Dark Side of the Moon, outer gatefold - The same picture was also used for a promotional poster


Dark Side of the Moon, inner gatefold

Here's the track list for this 7" EP:

01. Dark Side of the Moon (3:20)
02. It's Been On My Mind (4:07)
03. Starry-Eyed (3:06)
04. Let's Trip (3:57)

All tracks were remastered from vinyl in December 2013 and are available in FLAC lossless format or high-quality 320 Kbps MP3 files, both formats include scans of the original item in PDF format.

Please have a look at the comments for the download links.





"Dark Side of the Moon" was published by Americana Records (...which mysteriously never released any other record...) in 1974. The EP came in a gatefold sleeve which offered a gorgeous and somehow psychedelic picture of Nichelle on the outside, and an additional more down-to-earth image accompanied by credits and a message "to all trekkies everywhere" on the inside. Here's a transcription of the message:

Personal Log:
Lt. Uhura, Communications Officer:
Starship Enterprise, NCC 1701
Stardate 7204.16

To all Trekkies everywhere,

my last five year mission for Star Fleet Command on the Enterprise as Communications Officer has been the most gratifying period of my life. Having travelled so far in outer space makes one feel so much closer to the whole cosmic spectrum of life knowing that our mission, charting galaxies and identifying other life forms, has had a positive impact on all Societies.

Thus it is my hope these melodies and lyrics contained herein, gathered from Regas II to far beyond Antares, will bring to you the same measure of joy and pleasure as they have given to me.


End of report.

Uhura out


Nichelle Nichols and her second husband Duke Mondy rehearsing at home, 1969

Side A opens with the title-track, a song written by Nichelle' second husband Duke Mondy, who is credited as "Duke Monday". With some Moog effects layered in for that spacey feeling, it is a pretty good example of the kind of Exotica-flavored Lounge Croon Soul that the EP contains. The lyrics poetically describe the coldness and aridity of the hidden side of our only satellite.

"It's Been On My Mind" was written again by Mondy along with Nichelle Nichols. The song starts with a spoken introduction before exploding in a rich Soul number with effective backing vocals appearing during the refrain and cool horns scattered here and there.

On Side B we find "Starry-Eyed", another spacey number written by producer Eddie Singleton along with one Dorothy Goodman who I wasn't able to trace back. The song offers more synthesizers than any other on the EP, along with elegant touches of jazzy guitars in the middle section and inspired vocals.

The frenetic "Let's Trip", once again written by Eddie Singleton, ends the record with an agitated vocal performace where Nichelle sighs, wheezes, hints, shouts, laughs and moans on the top - or better, over the top - of a repetitive walking bassline, chorus and complex full-instrumentation arrangement.

Here's the credits of "Dark Side of the Moon" as they appear on the inner gatefold:

Producer: Eddie Singleton
Arranger: Alonzo Levister
Engineer: Grover Helsley
Art Direction: Pin Stripe Studios
Photography: Harvey Stewart


The following videos offer a preview of the remastered EP, for this purpose I chose the two tracks on Side A: "Dark Side of the Moon" and "It's Been On My Mind", enjoy!






More entries about Nichelle Nichols will hopefully appear on this blog in the next months, in the accompaning text I'll try to focus on her discography and musical career which willfully have not been deeply explored in the current post.

More information about Nichelle Nichols is available here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichelle_Nichols

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Nichelle_Nichols.aspx#1

http://dsubnet0.wordpress.com/nichelle-nichols-who-else-was-a-10th-grade-nerd-supposed-to-write-about/

http://neptsdepths.blogspot.com/2012/12/change-in-nichols.html

http://vibrant-oxymoron.blogspot.com/2012/04/nichelle-nichols-uhura-and-beyond.html

http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Nichelle_Nichols

http://www.geeksofdoom.com/2012/09/08/interview-star-treks-nichelle-nichols-talks-about-her-famous-kiss-with-captain-kirk

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/01/17/star-treks-nichelle-nichols-on-how-martin-luther-king-king-jr-changed-her-life/

http://www.dodlive.mil/index.php/2012/02/going-where-no-african-american-had-gone-before/

http://nubiansinsyfy.blogspot.com/2013/09/image-is-important-for-us-to-see.html

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2011/06/q-a-nichelle-nichols-aka-lt-uhura-and-nasa/

http://mystartrekscrapbook.blogspot.com/search/label/Nichelle%20Nichols

http://www.gordsellar.com/2013/06/18/jazzsf-intersection-nichelle-nichols-and-duke-ellington/

http://on.aol.com/video/nichelle-nichols--performing-with-duke-ellington-517412473

http://my-retrospace.blogspot.com/2009/09/foxy-ladies-5-nichelle-nichols.html

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/nichelle-nichols-mn0000335082/biography

http://sarcasticcompanion.blogspot.com/2013/07/nichelle-nichols-out-of-this-world.html

http://waxidermy.com/nichelle-nichols-dark-side-of-the-moon-beyond-antares/

http://abandonedandheartbroke.blogspot.com/2013/05/star-trek-musical.html

http://articles.latimes.com/1990-02-02/entertainment/ca-1008_1_nichelle-nichols


If you have any other useful information about Nichelle Nichols and "Dark Side of the Moon" - especially corrections and improvements to this post - or if you spot any dead links, just get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

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