Growing up, staying up late every Saturday night to watch Showtime at the Apollo was the highlight of my weekend. I found so much joy in “Amateur Night” and the weekly musical guests but KiKi Shepard, the show’s co-host, always stood out to me. She wasn’t performing but every time she entered with her rhythmic walk she commanded the stage. She always wore a gleaming smile, hair that was always in place and never ceased to amaze viewers with her stunning gowns. She exuded elegance. No matter how many times the hosts changed, Shepard stuck around and served as the Apollo’s signature beauty. For her birthday today, we want to pay homage to the First Lady of the Apollo.
Shepard was born Chiquita Renee Shepard on July 15, 1951 and was raised in Tyler, Texas. After graduating from Howard University, she made her way to New York City and landed on Broadway, where she danced for a decade. She was introduced to Showtime at the Apollo through her mentor, Otis Sallid, who summoned her to be his assistant. Once he left the show, she stepped in his role as the head choreographer for the Apollo Dancers. While serving as the head choreographer, she was requested to step in to the role of co-host and in 1987 she made her debut. She remained the show’s co-host and hosted alongside Sinbad, Mark Curry, Rudy Rush and Steve Harvey until its cancellation in 2008.
Shephard also stepped off the Apollo stage and onto the set of some beloved sitcoms and dramas. She was a guest star on shows like A Different World, Baywatch, Thunder in Paradise and NYPD Blue. Shepard took her exposure and used it as a launching pad into philanthropy as well. She served as the spokesperson for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America for 10 years and also founded the K.I.S Foundation to raise awareness about sickle cell disease.
There weren’t many women like Shepard on television during the 1990s. She was deemed the “Black Vanna White” because there was no one else gracing TV screens in Black households the way she did. She flaunted her chocolate complexion every night which was an empowering gesture for Black girls and women alike. She was a southern belle that added class and charm to the show and urban television. Happy Birthday Ms. Shepard and thank you for showing little girls like me that Black beauty deserved to be celebrated.