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Clarence Muse

Charlotte Henry (left), Frank Buck (center), Clarence Muse (right) in Jungle Menace
Born October 14, 1889(1889-10-14)
Baltimore Maryland, United States
Died October 13, 1979 (aged 89)
Perris , California, United States
Years active 1921 - 1979
Spouse(s) Irene Ena (1952-1979) (his death)
Willabelie (?-?) (divorced) 3 children

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 more than sixty years, and appeared in more than 150 movies.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Alexander and Mary.[1] He studied at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania and received an international law degree in 1911. Muse 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. Muse appeared as an opera singer, minstrel show performer, vaudeville and Broadway actor; he also wrote songs, plays, and sketches.

He was the major star in Broken Earth (1936),[4] 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 Clarence Muse), the film's early scenes focused in a highly realistic manner on the incredible hardship of black farmers, with plowing scenes. Muse and Langston Hughes wrote the script for Way Down South (1939).[5] 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".[6] From 1955 to 1956, Muse was a regular on the weekly TV version of Casablanca, playing Sam the pianist, and in 1959, he played Peter, the Honey Man, in the film Porgy and Bess, with Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge and Sammy Davis Jr. Other film credits include Buck and the Preacher (1972), and Car Wash (1976), as "Snapper". His last acting role was in The Black Stallion (1979), with Mickey Rooney and Teri Garr.

He received an honorary doctor of humanities degree from Bishop College, Dallas, Texas, in 1972, and was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Omega Chapter. Clarence Muse died in Perris, California, October 13, 1979.


  1. ^ Sampson, Henry T. Blacks in Black and White, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., (1995) – ISBN 0810826054
  2. ^ Peterson, Bernard L. The African American Theatre Directory, 1816-1960: A Comprehensive Guide to Early Black Theatre, Greenwood Press, 1997 - ISBN 0313295379
  3. ^ Hearts in Dixie (1929)
  4. ^ Broken Earth (1936)
  5. ^ Belton, John. Movies and Mass Culture, Rutgers University Press, 1996 – ISBN 0813522285
  6. ^ Gabbard, Krin. Jammin' at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema, University of Chicago Press, p. 109, 1996 – ISBN 0226277887


  • Sampson, Henry T. Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865–1910, Scarecrow Press, Incorporated, 1988 – ISBN 0810820706
  • Wintz, Cary D. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Routledge, 2004 – ISBN 157958389X

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