Renée Elise Goldsberry’s voice echoes down the line– clear, rich, and warm, much like the commanding power, laced with the vulnerability she brings to her now-signature Hamilton song, “Satisfied.”
“I could not sleep the night before we recorded that song,” Goldsberry says referencing the track that very well cemented her 2016 Tony win for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (not to mention her Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award for Off-Broadway excellence). “I just knew, because I grew up on cast recordings, that any little girl like me would learn this song from this cast album.”
The singer reminisces on a childhood spent belting out lyrics to songs heard on Houston radio stations, first introduced by her parents. It's safe to say Goldsberry's family held a passion for the arts. “I’d be in the back seat singing too loud or rapping too loud, annoying my brother,” she admits with a chuckle. “He used to say, ‘Renée, it’s not that you sing all the time, it’s that you sing all the time so loud.’”
That volume paid off when Goldsberry’s parents enrolled both children in a Houston International Theatre School summertime program to keep them out of the house and away from the sweltering Space City heat. Though not yet the Tony-winning star she would become, Goldsberry, then 8, embraced every quick change and dance step with an enthusiasm and effortlessness that would one day inform her future career. “I was just the happiest kid alive to be in the background,” Goldsberry recalls. “I just changed my clothes, and I kept coming on, singing backup, and it was amazing.”
The exhilaration of her time on the stage, coupled with a coveted role in the children’s chorus during a 1981 Houston Grand Opera production of Carmen, left Goldsberry with a simple guiding principle: the next time someone pointed at her and asked her to sing, she’d sing as loud and proud as she could. “Here I am decades later.”
In fact, she’s unforgettable decades later thanks to a Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap-styled musical about America’s Founding Fathers and her show stopping number in its first act. Her bold and charismatic voice and the empathy she imparted to an otherwise mysterious character shrouded in the dusty pages of history, charmed the hearts of millions and turned the homegrown Houstonian into a household name.
And while her own story doesn’t unfold onstage as Alexander Hamilton’s does (you’d have to see the play), the hard-won journey to score was a monumental moment in the star’s career. “It's still my voice,” she explains. “It's still the sum of my experiences and my perspective that are going to make it in any way interesting. I can only imitate somebody else for so long.”
After leaving Houston as a teenager and eventually graduating from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Southern California, Goldsberry slowly broke into the industry earning recurring stints on shows like Ally McBeal and One Life to Live. When she finally made her way back to the stage, she’d originate the role of Nettie in the Broadway production of The Color Purple and portray the final Mimi in the last shows of RENT.
Now based in the Big Apple, her face has spent many years on primetime networks like CBS, NBC, Netflix, and even in a hit HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey. And rumor is she’s set to star in the upcoming She-Hulk series on Disney+ — a report she’s not allowed to acknowledge either way, “which I think is super sexy,” Goldsberry laughs.
Another facet that makes its way into every role she embodies? Houston. “I grew up in a really beautiful community of Black people in Houston, a very vibrant community of professional Black people in Houston,” she shares. “If I am ever playing a woman who is intelligent, and beautiful, and loves her family, and is alive and present in her community, it is based on one of the women who raised me in Houston, Texas.”
Goldsberry doesn’t get home to Space City as often these days. Between her mother selling her childhood home in 2019, screen and stage work, and raising two children amid a global pandemic, life’s been going, well, nonstop. That doesn’t mean Houston has to be without one of its golden voices for long. Goldsberry’s releasing a pop album later this year, her first original in 15 years.
Unlike her last dance with the Billboard charts (Hamilton became the bestselling cast album of all time after being certified platinum six times), Goldsberry’s next entrée will feature her own words and message. “It’s the music that I would have wanted to hear driving in the back seat of my car around the Loop.”