Clarence Muse

From Wind Repertory Project
Clarence Muse


Clarence Muse (14 October 1889, Baltimore, Md. – 13 October 1979, Perris, Calif.) was an actor, screenwriter, director, composer, and lawyer.

Muse 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.

Muse was the first African American to "star" in a film. He acted for more than sixty years, and appeared in more than 150 movies. Muse performed in Hearts in Dixie (1929) 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. 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.

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, which became a signature song of Louis Armstrong.

He was the major star in Broken Earth (1936), which related the story of a black sharecropper whose son miraculously recovers from fever through the father's fervent prayer. 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). The film was notable for its casting of African-American actors in central roles, and for tackling racial issues in the South. Muse also performed in Broken Strings (1940), as a concert violinist who opposes the desire of his son to play "swing". From 1955 to 1956, Muse was a regular on the weekly TV version of Casablanca, and in 1959, he played Peter, the Honey Man, in the film Porgy and Bess, with Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge and Sammy Davis Jr. His last acting role was in The Black Stallion (1979).

He was inducted in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1973.

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