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Clarence Muse

born on 18/10/1889 in Baltimore, MD, United States

died on 13/10/1979 in Perris, CA, United States

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Clarence Muse

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Clarence Muse (October 14, 1889 – October 13, 1979) was an actor, screenwriter, director, composer, and lawyer. He was inducted in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1973. Muse was the first African American to "star" in a film. He acted for fifty years, and appeared in more than 150 movies.

Life and career

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Alexander and Mary Muse,[1] he studied at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and received an international law degree in 1911. He was acting in New York by the 1920s, during the Harlem Renaissance with two Harlem theatres, Lincoln Players and Lafayette Players.[2]

Muse moved to Chicago for a while, and then moved to Hollywood and performed in Hearts in Dixie (1929),[3] the first all-black movie. For the next fifty years, he worked regularly in minor and major roles. While with the Lafayette Players, Muse worked under the management of producer Robert Levy on productions that helped black actors to gain prominence and respect. In regards to the Lafayette Theatre's staging of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Muse said the play was relevant to black actors and audiences "because, in a way, it was every black man's story. Black men too have been split creatures inhabiting one body.".[4] Muse appeared as an opera singer, minstrel show performer, vaudeville and Broadway actor; he also wrote songs, plays, and sketches. In 1943, he became the first African American Broadway director with Run Little Chillun.[5]

Muse was also the co-writer of several notable songs. In 1931, with Leon René and Otis René, Muse wrote "When It's Sleepy Time Down South", also known as "Sleepy Time Down South". The song was sung by Nina Mae McKinney in the movie Safe in Hell (1931), and later became a signature song of Louis Armstrong.

He was the major star in Broken Earth (1936),[6] which related the story of a black sharecropper whose son miraculously recovers from fever through the father's fervent prayer. Shot on a farm in the South with nonprofessional actors (except for Muse), the film's early scenes focused in a highly realistic manner on the incredible hardship of black farmers, with plowing scenes. In 1938, Muse co-starred with boxer Joe Louis in Spirit of Youth, the fictional story of a champion boxer which featured an all black cast. Muse and Langston Hughes wrote the script for Way Down South (1939).[7]

Muse performed in Broken Strings (1940), as a concert violinist who opposes the desire of his son to play "swing".[8] From 1955-56, Muse was a regular on the weekly TV version of Casablanca, playing Sam the pianist (a part he was under consideration for in the original Warner Brothers film), and in 1959, he played Peter, the Honey Man, in Porgy and Bess.

He appeared on Disney's TV miniseries The Swamp Fox. Other film credits include Buck and the Preacher (1972), The World's Greatest Athlete (1973) and as Gazenga's Assistant, "Snapper" in Car Wash (1976). His last acting role was in The Black Stallion (1979).[9]


He received an honorary doctor of humanities degree from Bishop College, Dallas, Texas, in 1972, and was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, Omega Chapter. Muse died in Perris, California, on October 13, 1979, one day before his 90th birthday and the same day that his final film was released.[9]

Partial filmography

  • Hearts in Dixie (1929)
  • Election Day (1929 short) (unconfirmed)
  • Guilty? (1930)
  • Rain or Shine (1930)
  • Safe in Hell (1931)
  • Dirigible (1931)
  • Huckleberry Finn (1931)
  • Secret Service (1931)
  • The Secret Witness (1931)
  • Safe in Hell (1931)
  • X Marks the Spot (1931)
  • Prestige (1932)
  • Lena Rivers (1932)
  • Night World (1932)
  • Attorney for the Defense (1932)
  • Is My Face Red? (1932)
  • Winner Take All (1932)
  • White Zombie (1932) (uncredited)
  • Hell's Highway (1932)
  • The Cabin in the Cotton (1932)
  • Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932)
  • Laughter in Hell (1933)
  • The Mind Reader (1933)
  • Flying Down to Rio (1933) (uncredited)
  • Massacre (1934)
  • The Personality Kid (1934)
  • Black Moon (1934)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)
  • Broadway Bill (1934)
  • Red Hot Tires (1935)
  • Alias Mary Dow (1935)
  • So Red the Rose (1935)
  • Harmony Lane (1935)
  • O'Shaughnessy's Boy (1935)
  • East of Java (1935)
  • Laughing Irish Eyes (1936)
  • Show Boat (1936)
  • Daniel Boone (1936)
  • Muss 'em Up (1936)
  • High Hat (1937)
  • Jungle Menace (1937 serial)
  • Deep South (1937 short)
  • The Toy Wife (1938)
  • Prison Train (1938)
  • Spirit of Youth (1938, also music)
  • Way Down South (1939, also writer)
  • Murder Over New York (1940)
  • That Gang of Mine (1940)
  • Broken Strings (1940)
  • Invisible Ghost (1941)
  • Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943) (uncredited)
  • Heaven Can Wait (1943) (uncredited)
  • Watch on the Rhine (1943)
  • Johnny Come Lately (1943)
  • Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
  • Double Indemnity (1944) (uncredited)
  • Jungle Queen (1945 serial)
  • Scarlet Street (1945)
  • Welcome Stranger (1947)
  • Silver River (1948)
  • An Act of Murder (1948)
  • The Great Dan Patch (1949)
  • Riding High (1950)
  • My Forbidden Past (1951)
  • Caribbean Gold (1952)
  • The Sun Shines Bright (1953)
  • Jamaica Run (1953)
  • Porgy and Bess (1959)
  • Buck and the Preacher (1972)
  • The World's Greatest Athlete (1973)
  • Car Wash (1976)
  • The Black Stallion (1979)


  1. ^ Sampson, Henry T. Blacks in Black and White, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1995; ISBN 0-8108-2605-4
  2. ^ Peterson, Bernard L. The African American Theatre Directory, 1816-1960: A Comprehensive Guide to Early Black Theatre, Greenwood Press, 1997; ISBN 0-313-29537-9
  3. ^ Hearts in Dixie (1929) profile,; accessed July 9, 2015.
  4. ^ Penn, Arthur S. Before the Harlem Renaissance. Collodion Press: New York. 2010.
  5. ^ Clarence Muse profile,; accessed June 15, 2017.
  6. ^ Broken Earth (1936)
  7. ^ Belton, John. Movies and Mass Culture, Rutgers University Press, 1996; ISBN 0-8135-2228-5
  8. ^ Gabbard, Krin. Jammin' at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema, University of Chicago Press, p. 109, 1996; ISBN 0-226-27788-7
  9. ^ a b Clarence Muse on IMDb


  • Sampson, Henry T. Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865–1910, Scarecrow Press, Incorporated, 1988 – ISBN 0-8108-2070-6
  • Wintz, Cary D. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Routledge, 2004 – ISBN 1-57958-389-X
  • Penn, Arthur S. Before the Harlem Renaissance. Collodion Press: New York, NY. 2010.

External links

This page was last modified 21.01.2018 22:53:32

This article uses material from the article Clarence Muse from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.