Tamron Hall remembers the day her late father showed her Iola Johnson on TV. Johnson was the first Black anchor for a Dallas television station. "He said, 'that can be you," recalls Hall. "When Connie Chung took her place in history, he said, 'That could be you.'"
This morning Hall made history herself when she became the first Black woman to co-anchor the Today show.
She spoke with ESSENCE.com about the big announcement, bringing a "human party" to the show and why she wore Lena Horne's jacket to celebrate.
ESSENCE: Congratulations! You're the first Black woman to occupy that anchor seat on the Today show. On cloud nine much?
Tamron Hall: Oh yes! How could I not be walking on cloud nine? Just the other day I was reading about Meredith Vieira being the first woman to host the primetime Olympic shows. Of course, I knew what was happening with my negotiations behind the scenes and I thought, wow, these big moments at NBC News and now I'm a part of this for women, for Black women, for all of us. And I'm just taken aback by it. I can't even describe to you how it feels.
ESSENCE.com: So, who was the first person you called?
Hall: I called my mother and she called everyone in Luling [Texas] and Austin. And everything in between. I have three incredible nieces, and a nephew who's going off to college. To hear them say they’re proud of me left me in tears. One of the things that a lot of people don't know is I own a couple of items that belonged to Lena Horne, that I bought at her estate auction. I have a jacket and a bracelet that belonged to her and when we finished the deal I put them on and posed in the mirror. I just stood there in the best Lena Horne pose ever. She was such an inspiration to me.
There's a young lady who's the first Black anchor in Utah. Someone sent me an article where she said that when she was a young girl she met me when I was co-anchor in Chicago and I inspired her. And now she's the first Black anchor on a Utah TV station.
ESSENCE.com: So it’s safe to assume, as Gawker put it, you’re bringing a “human party” to the show.
Hall: [Laughs] I don't know how much of a human party. But I love to have fun. The two things that I require for anyone who's around me: you need to love food and you need to be able to laugh. That's the great thing also about Today. We focus on news, the important stories that affect all of us and balance that with fun and with family. And that's why being on morning TV is such a natural spot. I was on morning TV for 10 years in Chicago. This is an extension of that but on a far bigger platform than I ever imagined. I'd hoped, but I wasn't sure.
ESSENCE.com: What will happen with your MSNBC show, NewsNation?
Hall: I'm doing both. That's why we're moving to 11 o'clock. So that I can keep the adrenaline going and obviously the Today show is right there and I can run across the street. I have an amazing team at MSNBC that I've worked with for these past six years. They know me very well. I'm not good with clichés because I think that's the curse of a Texan—but it's a fine-oiled machine. And we'll continue to do Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall on Investigation Discovery.
ESSENCE.com: Three jobs? You make the rest of us look like slackers.
Hall: What-ever! I think I'm like one of the characters in the "Hey Mon" skit from In Living Color.
ESSENCE.com: With your morning TV experience, waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning is not going to be that difficult.
Hall: My party years were over in Chicago. Besides, when you love what you do, it makes it a little easier. Trust me, I do hit the snooze button about 4 times. I have two iPhones, a BlackBerry and a clock radio. Now I've learned to set Pandora to wake me up. It's not like it goes off and I just jump out of bed and there are hummingbirds following me. I tell people all the time: the hardest part is putting my feet on the floor.
ESSENCE.com: Isn’t life something? The way you saw Lena Horne is how a lot of women see you now.
Hall: It’s crazy. I mean I can't even believe it. We were recently looking at some old pictures of me as a little kid—you'll see them on Today—and someone asked me how old I feel now. I said, I feel 7, because I always want to look at life with those big hopeful eyes that my niece does at 7. Of course, I have the maturity of a woman and I've seen a lot and experienced a lot. I've lost my father since I started filling in on Today. The last time he saw me on TV was on Today. He was in the hospital battling pneumonia. He said he was asleep, heard my voice, woke up and I was on Today. So this show has a great importance to me for many reasons.
Tamron Hall will co-host the 9 o'clock hour of the Today show with Natalie Morales, Al Roker and Willie Geist.