Diahann Carroll Presents Emmy With Kerry Washington—Why It's a Big Deal

Emmy organizers had some pretty good reasons to pair these two African-American actresses as presenters

By Josh Grossberg Sep 23, 2013 4:44 PMTags
Diahann Carroll, Kerry Washington, Emmy Awards ShowKevin Winter/Getty Images

For all those Millennials who don't know who Diahann Carroll is, her appearance at Sunday night's Emmys was a welcomed nod to her place in TV history.

The 78-year-old actress and singer, who joined Kerry Washington onstage to present the award for Best Supporting Actor in a drama to Bobby Cannavale, was the first African-American ever to be nominated for TV's highest honor.

This when she earned an Emmy nom for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for an episode of the 1963 police drama Naked City.

But it was in 1969 that she scored her most memorable nomination—a Best Actress nod for her role as a nurse in Julia, a sitcom which ran on NBC from 1968 to 1971. The light-hearted comedy was the first of its kind to give an African-American woman top billing in a non-stereotypical role (i.e. domestic servant). It followed Carroll's widowed single mother trying to raise her young son while working in the office of a Caucasian doctor played by Lloyd Nolan.

So for Emmy organizers, having the acting legend grace the podium with the Scandal star was filled with significance as Washington surprisingly was the first African-American—be it male or female— in nearly 40 years to earn a nomination while heading up her own series.

That pass-the-torch moment wasn't lost on Carroll, who went on to win a Golden Globe for her work on Julia and expressed hope that such a long gap for African-American performers won't be repeated.

"I feel we're a little behind, we need to catch up," published reports quote the four-time Emmy nominee on the red carpet as saying. "We're all very grateful to the Emmys because they've been on our side. At the same time, we'd like it to be a little more with what's going on in the world."

ABC/Richard Cartwright

During the ceremony, alas, Carroll's determination onstage that Washington should win for her role as Olivia Pope on the Washington D.C.-set ABC drama did not come to fruition as Claire Danes took home the Emmy for Best Actress.

But a day before the show at the BAFTA LA TV Tea Party, Kerry told E! News what an honor it was to be paired up with a pioneer of the stage and small screen.

"I have this voicemail message on my phone from Diahann Carroll calling to tell what she's wearing," a beaming Washington said. "I will never erase it. I will have it forever…She wanted me to be able to coordinate. I'll have it forever."

No doubt given the success she's had in the last two years, we expect Kerry to be in the running for many more Emmys to come.

—Additional reporting by Marc Malkin