Clarence Muse — Singer of His People (1932) 🇺🇸

Clarence Muse (1938) |

February 07, 2022

Clarence Muse has won laurels in so many fields he is a very difficult person to classify. Stage and screen, radio and music all claim him for their own. This is the story of a gifted colored lad, who gave up a career in law to follow his more romantic quest of art, and after twenty-five years of successful trouping, settled down in Hollywood for radio and motion picture work, secure in the glory of innumerable conquests.

by Michael Kelly

Few modern day radio stars, with all the talents and accomplishments which are prerequisite to success in the highly competitive field of broadcasting, compare with Clarence Muse, featured Negro entertainer of KNX, in Hollywood.

With a vast and rich background on both the legitimate stage and in pictures, this picturesque colored actor appears every morning in the role of “Jackson” with Bill Sharpies’ Breakfast Gang, a popular program on the Hollywood station.

Recently signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for one of the important character roles in Upton Sinclair’s sensational novel, “The Wet Parade,” with a stellar cast, the famous colored actor has completed nine talking pictures within the last year. Among these are such feature productions as Dirigible, “X Marks the Spot,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Secret Service,” and many others.

In addition to his many laurels, in the theatrical profession, Muse recently won nation-wide recognition for his song, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” now the rage over the radio. This plaintive melody of the old south is heard nightly being played by orchestras in the smartest clubs all over the country. Muse himself sings it often in his appearances over KNX.

The Negro trouper, with a background of 25 years experience on the stage, plays in the most difficult and exacting parts. The picture Dirigible, was enacted in three languages, English, French and German, all of which he speaks fluently. His versatility could perhaps be no better exemplified than by the wide range of requirements exacted by his roles in his other eight pictures. His parts in these productions included a southern “cullud” boy, a Sengalese, an Indo-Chinese, and an English Negro with a Oxford accent, and a Chicago gangster — all different dialects, most of which he had to invent.

KNX audiences have invariably remarked in their response to his many appearances in varied roles that his mode of expression is a realistic one. For the most part, his is the primitive, simple reaction of the elemental man. This is by no means because Muse is such a man; but rather because he knows this is a primary characteristic of his race, which he more or less represents, and personifies.

A college man, cultured and well-read, Muse nevertheless plays an illiterate Negro porter with finesse. His understanding of human nature runs deep and full. He wanders waist-deep in the stream of life. He is distinctly of the people — an integral part of them.

One of his chief distinctions is his gift as a composer of spirituals. His song, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” has already been mentioned.

He recently introduced another lovely ballad, entiled Alley Way of My Dreams. In addition to this, Muse is completing an exquisite number, “I’m Spiritual,” which he hopes will be honored by Lawrence Tibbett in the latter’s next concert program.

Clarence Muse, who created the title role in DuBose Heward’s play, Porgy, names Paul RobesonBill RobinsonRoland Hayes and Charles Gilpin as the greatest quartet of Negro players who have ever lived, modestly leaving himself out. Yet Gilpin, for whom O’Neill wrote the classic Emperor Jones, was a bit player in Muse’s company, the famous Lafayette Players of New York.

Muse, alone of the five, had found success in talking pictures, although Gilpin, just before he died, was to have played in an early talkie. The colored star has survived in the talkies where others of his race have fallen by the wayside for obvious reasons. Black or white, the varied requirements of the sound films are such that only those with a full and complete background of accomplishment and talent can emerge on top.

“It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of experience,” Muse contends. “The ability to troupe in most any kind of role, to invent characters, to portray unheard-of individuals with sincerity, all comes with repeated appearances on the boards. One learns more than just ease. He finds his tongue, he discovers an ability to create characters out of words — personalities that walk and breathe and life-like.

“I can’t stress too strongly,” he declares, “The importance in my life of the years I spent barnstorming up and down America with vagabond Negro troupes. My experience with the Lafayette Players in New York, with my school in Chicago, where I taught youngsters the rudiments of the drama, of the great fund of experience I derived from producing, staging and enacting a leading role in “Thais,” in St. Louis, with 190 amateurs in the cast of characters.

“These,” he says, “have formed so rich and complete a background, that no role, simple or difficult, can worry me. I give it the best in me, my complete, natural and understanding interpretation, and usually I find this to be the required thing. I have no ego, but my faith in myself, in the experience I have piled up over a quarter of a century of trouping is strong.”

He has a stucco home in Los Angeles, well guarded by a huge police dog... a present from Sam Bischoff, production head of Tiffany Studios who is Muse's good friend. His wife, a cultured, slender woman, ranks as one of the finest cooks who ever blessed a man’s table with luscious edibles. Muse also has a son, Dion, who is a promising writer, and a daughter, May, who sings with him over KNX.

Here are a few of the many movie roles played by Clarence Muse. Recognize him in any of them?

A college man, cultured and well-read, Muse nevertheless plays illiterate parts with finesse. His understanding of human nature runs deep and full — he wanders knee-deep in the stream of Life. At the right, in the white cap, is Clarence Muse in the comedy character of “Jackson,” the singing cook with Bill Sharpies Breakfast Gang on KNX.

Source: Radio Doings Magazine, March/April 1932

Source: Variety Radio Directory (1938-1939)