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It wasn’t until September 2021 that Sesame Street — which started in November 1969 — got its first full-time Black female puppeteer.
Megan Piphus Peace has now joined the cast full time as the role of Gabrielle, a 6-year-old puppet.
“I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be on Sesame Street and encourage other kids to dream as big as their imaginations will allow,” the 29-year-old tells NPR’s Weekend Edition. “I always dreamed of working in television, but I never imagined myself being at Sesame Street.”
Megan Piphus Peace is now officially apart of that storied history. In September, she celebrated her one-year anniversary as a member of the team—and officially left her real estate career, which she had been pursuing as she tried to establish herself as a puppeteer.
Puppetry is not on her, but in her
Piphus Peace says a woman at her church invited her to a puppetry conference where she first learned about the art. She saw female ventriloquists who would sing and tell stories with their characters.
She went home and told her parents she wanted to learn ventriloquism.
“I had never seen a ventriloquist before. And at the time, I didn’t realize that Shari Lewis, one of my idols … was a ventriloquist until I was much older because she was so good,” Piphus Peace says.
As a high school senior in Cincinnati, students knew her as the “Ventriloquist Valedictorian.” At Vanderbilt University, where she studied economics, she was known as the “Vanderbilt Ventriloquist.” Peace would later appear on “The Tonight Show” in 2012 and “America’s Got Talent” in 2013.
One of her mentors, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, who debuted the “Sesame Street” character Abby Cadabby in 2006, tells the Washington Post that Piphus Peace is a gifted storyteller and natural leader.
“To say that I was intrigued by Megan would be an understatement,” says Carrara-Rudolph. “Megan’s sheer talent as a singer, actress, writer and performer is incredible on its own, but I was instantly inspired by her loving heart, strength of character, humor, humanity and what an energetic creative force she is.”
After going through an exhaustive audition process, Peace initially performed as Gabrielle on “Sesame Street” in 2020 for a CNN children’s town hall called “Standing Up to Racism.”
Peace commends the show for tackling difficult topics and presenting them in a way that children can process. “One of the lessons that we have was on using your voice. It speaks subtly to equity,” she tells NPR. “You know, we didn’t have Gabrielle go into the camera and say, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ She says that we all have a voice that matters and we can use our voice.”
The show, broadcast in more than 150 countries, has roots in Black culture and was heavily influenced by New York City’s Harlem. In its early years, the show intentionally featured a range of Black guest stars—including actor James Earl Jones and singer Nina Simone—to help teach numbers and letters to a target audience that included many young Black viewers.
Information in this article was obtained via The Smithsonian and NPR.