History:  The Founder of PVAAC

Clarence Muse became the first known colored person to attend the Dickinson School of Law in 1908. Muse later became a respected Hollywood actor. He appeared in over 200 films, including Huckleberry Finn (1931) in the pivotal role of Jim, the screen version of Porgy and Bess (1959), and Car Wash (1976). Muse was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1973. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the Dickinson School of Law in 1978. 

 

He joined the progressive black acting group, the Lincoln Players, during the Harlem Renaissance. With his experience, he would find new roles in Hollywood and join with Langston Hughes to co-write the famous 1939 film, “Way Down South.” The groundbreaking film showcased the truth about black life in the Jim Crow south.

Clarence Muse was a lawyer who used his music skills to develop a thriving career as an actor, screenwriter, director and composer in the early 1900s. He is known as the first African-American to star in a film (“Broken Earth” in 1936). With an all-black amateur cast, the film focused on the incredible hardship of black farmers, with real back-breaking plow scenes to engage the audience.  

 

Muse received his international law degree in 1911. Unfortunately, he was discouraged by the lack of opportunities for black lawyers during the time. That’s when he turned to acting.

 

He joined the progressive black acting group, the Lincoln Players, during the Harlem Renaissance. With his experience, he would find new roles in Hollywood and join with Langston Hughes to co-write the famous 1939 film, “Way Down South.” The groundbreaking film showcased the truth about black life in the Jim Crow south.

 

Muse’s talents were endless. In 1940, he starred as a classical violinist in “Broken Strings,” then, during WWII, he would arrange U.S.O. tours of the black actors to serve the soldiers overseas during war. 

 

Unlike other actors of his time, Muse took on roles that portrayed the black man with dignity and a sharp tongue, surprising Southern whites in his on-screen scripting. Once he received his honorary doctorate, he insisted on being addressed as Dr. Muse. He would claim 60 years of acting in over 200 films.

 

A veteran, he starred alongside Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Mickey Rooney and Sammy Davis Jr. Rubbing elbows with the best, Muse would use his music skills to compose "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," which became Louis Armstrong's hit song.

 

Muse’s final roles were as a regular on the weekly TV show "Casablanca," playing Sam, the pianist. Then in 1976, he had a role in the movie “Car Wash.”

 

He died four days before the release of his final film, “The Black Stallion” in 1979. His legacy was immortalized in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1973.