Black History Month can sometimes feel very serious. There are definitely serious issues and history to discuss. But, there are many uplifting stories to explore as well.
Dr. Sylvia Traymore Morrison has spent a career giving audiences a reason to lighten up and laugh a little. She is the original African American Female Impressionist. And we are privileged that she was recently a guest on YurView’s Main St. Living show.
Watch the above interview with Dr. Sylvia Traymore Morrison to learn more about her extraordinary career. Or, read the video transcription we’ve provided below (lightly edited for clarity).
Muhammad Ali Roast
Quincy Carr, Host of Main St. Living (00:40) – Welcome to the show, Doc.
Dr. Sylvia Traymore Morrison, Comedienne & Impressionist (00:43) – Hello. How are you doing?
QC (00:45) – Doing great. How about you?
SM (00:47) – I’m good. I’m good. I’m excited to be here. Just excited.
QC (00:53) – You look like you’re in high spirits. I remember I met you a couple years ago at the DC Comedy Festival, and I just admire who I had a chance to be across from. But you’ve had an incredible career, Dr. Sylvia. And it’s still going strong. But back in the early days, you were managed by Redd Foxx. And you also hosted a roast for Muhammad Ali.
(01:17) – And from what I understand, then you signed as an associate writer for Saturday Night Live. I mean, you’ve got to tell us, a lot to unpack. So why don’t we get started?
SM (01:26) – Wow, Quincy, when you say it like that, it just sounds good. You know, it’s like, wow, who was that? But yeah, I signed my first management contract with Redd Foxx.
(01:37) – And not only did I host the Muhammad Ali roast as a request from Dick Gregory, I actually replaced…Richard Pryor was supposed to host the Muhammad Ali roast. And he couldn’t make it that day. Everybody was busy all across the country. Anybody that they could have flown in immediately was busy. And I had been to Europe to entertain the American troops. And one of the girls that I went to Europe with, told Dick Gregory that if they hired me, they wouldn’t have a problem. So I actually replaced Richard Pryor that day.
QC (02:19) – That’s historic right there.
Touring with Whitney Houston
Danielle Alvari, Host of Main St. Living (02:22) – And you’ve entertained the troops. You’ve toured with Whitney Houston. You’ve worked with countless legends, basically, over the years. What have been some of your favorite gigs that you’ve worked on? Or who do you love to impersonate?
SM (02:34) – Well, one of my favorite gigs I worked on, and I love telling this quick story because it just warms my heart. I did 23 cities with Whitney Houston, 23 major American cities. And we actually did three spots in Canada. And this one particular night, she called me up on stage because we used to run out front to watch her perform after my….nobody was on the show but me and Whitney. I opened, she closed. And she was up on the stage looking down at me. And she said…and I’m like, what does she want? I don’t know. You know, because everybody was afraid. It’s Whitney Houston, you know?
(03:11) – And she sent security out to get me to bring me on stage. And when I got on stage, she grabbed my hand. I almost cry every time I tell the story. And she lifted it up high in the air. And she said, “Hey, guys, hey, wasn’t Sylvia wonderful? Wasn’t she just wonderful?” And you could hear the roar of 15,000 people, like I believe you can hear miles away. It was the most enchanting night of my career, I believe. Wow, that Whitney Houston gave me a stamp like that. So that was big.
Over 50 Years of Comedy
QC (03:46) – You’re a working performer, a mom, and also an author of several books, Dr. Sylvia, you’ve got to tell us about your books.
SM (03:53) – When I used to go to shows, people would ask me questions, and it would always be stuff about my career. So I said, you know what, I’m just gonna write it down in a book. And I didn’t know what I was facing.
(04:05) – It took me five years to finish the autobiography because I had to get the right dates, the right times, the right this, the right that. And I had to put in Saturday Night Live and touring with the Temptations and the Four Tops, Motown’s 25th…it was just a lot. The name of the autobiography is Almost There, Almost.
(04:30) – After Whitney died, I was devastated. I was doing a show in Philadelphia, and this whole story called Jellybeans From Heaven, came to me on stage. And I didn’t even have to work. It only took me about a year to write that book. Then, in 2020, COVID came into my house. And I was sick, so sick. It was like demonic sick, evil, evil, evil COVID, evil. So I decided to write a book entitled Me, Satan, God and COVID. Because all four of us were in the room together. All four of us were in that room battling. It was horrible. It was just horrible.
(05:16) – The fourth book that I’m working on, to be released this late this summer, is entitled WINGS OF THE UNTOLD. It’s about a young Black female woman, myself, who went into the airlines as an airline stewardess is what we used to call them back in the day. I took that job because it gave me a chance to travel from New York to DC, to LA and I could go to all the clubs. But I had an experience as a flight attendant back in the 1970s. So it’s amazing because my first professional show I did, was in Washington, DC, at a place called Constitution Hall. It seats about a couple thousand people. The year was 1969. So it put me over the 50 year mark. At least that’s how I look at it.
QC (06:07) – That’s a milestone, no matter how you look at it.
DA (06:11) – But now, when people ask all these questions about your life, you can say, read the book.
SM (06:15) – Well I can, I do say that. But if they ask me specific questions, I’m here. But I do say that my book is available on Amazon. Or if you want a signed copy, just reach out to me.
DA (06:26) – So I do want to ask you, of course, especially because we’re celebrating Black History Month, how do you think your journey to success was made more difficult because you are a Black woman? And do you think it’s gotten any better since you started?
SM (06:39) – What a great question. It was extremely difficult because I didn’t know any other females, Black, or White or Asian or Hispanic, nobody back then to call and say meet me at the open mic. Or let’s do so and so. There was nobody.
(06:58) – The only other comic that I knew who had a reputation was a woman named Moms Mabley. And she came up from out of the Chitlin’ Circuit. It’s some wonderful history with Redd Foxx and Pigmeat Markham, a lot of the comics that a lot of people don’t know about. But they were nationally and internationally known.
(07:20) – And me going into the couple of nightclubs back then, because we didn’t have many clubs to go to, I believe I was the first Black girl to hit The Comedy Store’s stage in California, which was where I met David Letterman. We were in line together to do comedy…Jay Leno. I’m sorry I’m dropping names. But it is what it is. And Robin Williams was my very favorite. He was so nice to me. So of course I was devastated when he died. But I remember him telling me, “You know what, Sylvia? You’re gonna be big. You’re gonna be big.” And I’m like, all of a sudden here comes Mork & Mindy.
QC (08:02) – Silvia, you’ve had such a great career, spanning five decades. How can our viewers keep up with you?
SM (08:13) – They can follow me on Instagram @sylviatmorrison and Facebook is Sylvia Traymore Morrison. I’m on Snapchat, we chat, he chat, she chat, TikTok and all that other stuff, yes.
QC (08:26) – And you also have a comedy event in Virginia on Valentine’s weekend, so make sure you guys check that out as well. Thank you so much, Sylvia.
SM (08:34) – Thank you guys.
DA (08:37) – Alright, man, I wish we had so much more time with her because you can tell she has a million great stories.
For more Black History Month features, visit yurview.com/BlackHistoryMonth.