After playing Maria on Sesame Street for 44 years, actress and writer Sonia Manzano announced her retirement from the beloved children’s show last week.
“Maria is Sonia Manzano, on purpose,” says Manzano, who started on Sesame Street when she was 21. “She has paralleled my life.”
Events on Sesame Street—such as Maria’s pregnancy and the death of variety shop owner Mr. Hooper—were taken from the actors’ lives and written into the series to speak to children on sensitive topics, and they were deeply personal to Manzano and the rest of the cast.
Sesame Street has also hosted just about every A-list celebrity and legendary musician imaginable to aid in counting, spelling, and manners exercises. “That’s always been really exciting,” Manzano says. “To be around those people for a second, and see that they were nervous, and maybe some of them are a little, ‘Oh, these puppets, how am I going to talk to them?’”
From the personal to the star-studded, here are some of Manzano’s favorite segments from where the air is sweet.
“[One of] the most meaningful segments to me [was] when Stevie Wonder was on the show. He did ‘Superstition,’ and it was like, everybody was on the same page as far as joy goes, and well-meaning.”
“Getting married on the show, when I got married and had a baby, the whole pregnancy—the birth series was a very exciting time for me on the show. I think it was the first time that television saw Latin people with the same hopes and dreams as any other people, and that was thrilling, to be a part of that.”
“Tony Bennett! These were stars that were famous before I was born!”
“I loved when Lena Horne sang ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green.’ I came in and said, ‘My goodness’—because it implies a lot of racial stuff, a song like that, without coming out and saying it. At that time it was so bold. And it was subtle.”
“Of course the ‘Goodbye Mr. Hooper,’ when Mr. Hooper died, we kind of dealt with death.”
“Ray Charles came on the show, and that was legendary.”
“Itzhak Perlman—I walked into the studio, and there’s this fabulous violin playing…”