Valisia LeKae (’01)

Category: Alumni Promise | Awards

After 10 years of paying her dues in the New York theater world as an ensemble member and understudy in Broadway shows like Ragtime110 in the ShadeThe Book of Mormon, and The Threepenny Opera, singer and actress Valisia LeKae landed a breakout role in 2011 as Diana Ross in the smash hit Motown: The Musical.

At UT, LeKae received a scholarship for serving as the mascot Smokey for her first two years and performed at Dollywood during her junior and senior years. After receiving her BA in psychology in 2001, she headed to Broadway.

As LeKae rose through the theatrical ranks, she started gaining critical acclaim. For her role as Sarah in Ragtime, LeKae received the 2010 Jeff Award for best featured actress in a musical, recognizing her contribution to Chicago theater.

Her starring Broadway role in Motown led LeKae to be named to the Root 100, an annual list of influential African Americans, and included as one of “13 to Watch in 2013” by Entertainment Weekly. She was nominated for the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding actress in a musical, a Tony Award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical, and a Grammy Award for best musical theatre album.

In 2013, she won the Theatre World Award for outstanding Broadway or Off-Broadway debut performance, was a National Action Network honoree at the Triumph Awards, and received the UT Accomplished Alumni Award. During her visit to campus to accept the award, she embraced the opportunity to represent her alma mater and inspire the students, faculty, and alumni. She gave generously of her time, attending psychology and theatre classes and meeting with members of the Clarence Brown Theatre Society.

LeKae was recognized by the UT Commission for Blacks for her service as a guest speaker during the 2014–15 African American Trailblazer Series. She currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the Department of Psychology.

Shortly after her 2013 visit to campus, LeKae was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She chose to go public with her diagnosis and her battle with the disease to encourage young women to be proactive about their health and early detection.

LeKae was named the national spokesperson for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition in 2014. She has been honored by the three major US ovarian cancer organizations and was named the 2016 Look Good Feel Better Dream Girl. LeKae also received the Thrive Causemetics Thrive Award, and the company’s pomegranate lip liner was renamed Valisia in her honor.

Most recently, LeKae was profiled by Tina’s Wish, a nonprofit ovarian cancer prevention center. She continues to use her voice and prominent position to inspire others and spread awareness of ovarian cancer.
Valisia LeKae
2014 Alumni Promise Award Winner