Nichelle Nichols' Lt. Uhura advanced the cause of 'classical' music in the future

Lt. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, accompanies herself on the Vulcan lute.Paramount

August 01, 2022

The sci-fi community mourns the loss of Nichelle Nichols, who died Saturday at 89. In her portrayal of Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek TV series, she — via creator Gene Roddenberry and the show’s writers — helped advance the cause of "classical" music in the future.

In the episode "The Conscience of the King,” Uhura sings “Beyond Antares,” while accompanying herself on the Vulcan lute. In the Star Trek universe, she is the only non-Vulcan to master the instrument. Listen to the otherworldly performance from the rec room of the USS Enterprise.

Music theorist Rebecca Leydon, in her 2004 contributions to Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema, said the song was “a celestial pastoral idyll, recalling the impressionist songs of Debussy and Ravel.” It is a comforting idea to think that classical music is so timeless that it will stay with us to the stars. Roddenberry believed that.

In a deleted scene from the episode “Elaan of Troyius,” Uhura asks Spock to teach her how to play the unusual instrument after learning he took second place in an Vulcan music competition.

Nichols was trained in singing as a teenager and actually sang “Beyond Antares” in the aired episode. The real-world accompaniment featured Marl Young (piano), Laurindo (guitar) and Catherine Gotthoffer (harp), with stellar lyrics by Gene L. Coon:

The skies are green and glowing,
Where my heart is, where my heart is,
Where the scented lunar flower is blooming:
Somewhere, beyond the stars...
Beyond Antares.

I'll be back, though it takes forever.
Forever is just a day.
Forever is just another journey.
Tomorrow a stop along the way.
Then let the years go fading,
Where my heart is, where my heart is,
Where my love eternally is waiting
Somewhere, beyond the stars...
Beyond Antares.

Gene Roddenberry had an enlightening idea of the future that awaited humankind as we reach for the stars. One constant was his love of music, especially classical music. With the passing of Nichols, we are reminded that classical music in the future was not an idea or inspiration for music in the future but a natural human experience that is timeless and worth experiencing, even with the awe-inspiring beauty of space around us.