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Rosetta LeNoire

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Rosetta LeNoire
Rosetta Olive Burton

(1911-08-08)August 8, 1911
DiedMarch 17, 2002(2002-03-17) (aged 90)
Resting placeCypress Hills National Cemetery
Years active1939–1998
William LeNoire
(m. 1929; div. 1943)
Egbert Brown
(m. 1948; died 1974)
AwardsNational Medal of Arts (1999)

Rosetta LeNoire (born Rosetta Olive Burton; August 8, 1911 – March 17, 2002) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She was known to contemporary audiences for her work in television. She had regular roles on such series as Gimme a Break! and Amen, and is particularly known for her role as Estelle "Mother" Winslow on Family Matters. In 1999, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[1]

Early life and career


LeNoire was born in Harlem, New York City, as the eldest of 5 children to Harold Burton, who was from Dominica, and Nymarie Edith Jacques Helwig, of Jamaica in the West Indies. As a young girl, LeNoire suffered from rickets, which her godfather Bill "Bojangles" Robinson helped her overcome by teaching her to dance. Stage theater was her first love, and LeNoire performed in the Federal Theater Project's Bassa Moona and was cast as a witch in Orson Welles' 1936 production of Macbeth.[2]

She appeared in a 1939 production of The Hot Mikado, starring Robinson, in which she played "Little Maid From School" Peep-Bo. She also appeared onstage, mostly as a singer and dancer, in I Had a Ball, Bassa Moona, Marching with Jimmy, Janie, Decision, Three's a Family, Destry Rides Again, and the Off Broadway Double Entry (two one-act musicals showcasing LeNoire: "The Bible Salesman," with a pre-SNL Garrett Morris, and "The Oldest Trick in the World" with Jane Connell).

Amas Repertory Theater


LeNoire championed the cause of racial equity for more than 70 years. Her efforts profoundly influenced the New York theater community. In 1968, using her own savings, LeNoire founded the AMAS Repertory Theatre Company, an interracial theater dedicated to multi-ethnic productions in New York City.

With this company, LeNoire created an artistic community where members' individual skills were recognized without regard to race, creed, color, religion, or national origin. She became a successful and groundbreaking Broadway producer.

The Actors' Equity Association awarded her the first award for helping contribute to the diversification of theater casting; in 1988, the award was named the Rosetta LeNoire Award.[3]

Amas Repertory Theatre provided a nurturing atmosphere for actors, and a community performing arts center. Throughout its history, many of the company's productions garnered reviews in The New York Times. The long-running theater's cramped headquarters were originally located at 1 East 104th Street, in the uptown neighborhood known as East Harlem. The theater continues today as Amas Musical Theatre, now located midtown on West 52nd Street above Jersey Boys, and carries on LeNoire's dream of diversity in the creative and theatrical arts. Since its inception, Amas has produced over 60 original musicals. Many of them have gone on to Broadway, including Bubbling Brown Sugar, which received a Tony Award nomination in 1976 for Best Musical.[4]

Voice acting


She was the voice of Big Bertha in Ralph Bakshi's animated feature film Fritz the Cat (1972).[5]



On March 17, 2002, LeNoire died at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey of complications from diabetes, but an article in TV Guide reported that she died of pneumonia.[6] A resident of the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood,New Jersey, she was 90 years old at the time of her death.[7] A Catholic, she was funeralized at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in the Bronx.[7][8]



The Rosie Award, named for Rosetta LeNoire, "is given to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary accomplishment and dedication in the theatrical arts and to corporations that work to promote opportunity and diversity",[9] with past honorees including Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade, Leslie Uggams, Maurice Hines, Phylicia Rashad, Woodie King Jr., Dionne Warwick, and George C. Wolfe.[10]


Year Title Role Notes
1958 Anna Lucasta Stella
1972 Fritz the Cat Bertha, additional voices Voice
1975 The Sunshine Boys Odessa, Willy's nurse
1983 Daniel Prison Matron
1984 Moscow on the Hudson The Judge
The Brother From Another Planet Mum
Lily in Love Rosanna
1985 Brewster's Millions Judge R. Woods
1986 Whatever It Takes Millie
Year Title Role Notes
1957 Studio One Maid, Mary Ellen Bailey 2 episodes
The Green Pastures Noah's Wife Television film
1960 The Play of the Week Belle 2 episodes
1962 Armstrong Circle Theatre Kathy Episode: "Journey to Oblivion"
1964 The Nurses Bessie
1966 ABC Stage 67 Woman Episode: "The Love Song of Barney Kempinski"
1970 A World Apart Matilda
1971 The Coming Asunder of Jimmy Bright Television film
1971–1972 The Guiding Light Leona Herbert Episode: "Not with My Cousin You Don't"
1972 Another World Gloria Metcalf Unknown episodes
1973 Calucci's Department Mizzi Gordon Episode: "The $80 Heist"
1975 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Tillie Television film
1976 Thank You, M'am Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones Short
1977 Ryan's Hope Miriam George 6 episodes
The Royal Family Della Television film
1978 Fantasy Island Cool Shade, Darryl[11] Episode: "Family Reunion/Voodoo"
1980 Mandy's Grandmother Librarian Short
Big Blonde Nettie Television film
1982 Benny's Place Television film
1984 Great Performances Rheba Episode: "You Can't Take It with You"
1985 Tales from the Darkside Miss Gillis Episode: "Parlour Floor Front"
1985–1987 Gimme a Break! Maybelle 'Mama' Harper 16 episodes
1987 The Father Clements Story Mrs. Clements Television film
1987–1989 Amen Leola Forbes, Leola Hudson 8 episodes
1990 Maverick Square Mrs. Lewis Television film
1989–1997 Family Matters Estelle 'Mother' Winslow Main (seasons 1–7); recurring (seasons 8–9)
1998 Cosby Nurse Episode: "Playground Scar"


  1. ^ Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "CUNY Spotlight." Interview with Edwin Wilson. City University Television, The Center for Advanced Study in Theatre Arts (CASTA) New York, 1991.
  3. ^ "Rosetta LeNoire Award". Actors' Equity Association. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
  4. ^ "The Tony Awards Nominations". Tony Awards. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
  5. ^ "Fritz the Cat". Quad Cinema. Retrieved Jul 25, 2021.
  6. ^ TV Guide April 27-May 3, 2002, p. 10.
  7. ^ a b Martin, Douglas. "Rosetta LeNoire, 90, Producer Who Broke Color Bar, Dies", The New York Times, March 20, 2002; accessed September 13, 2011.
  8. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths BROWN, ROSETTA LENOIRE". The New York Times. 2002-03-20. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-10-16.
  9. ^ "Amas Musical Theatre benefit on Oct 25 includes concert presentation of 'RAISIN'", BroadwayWorld, October 12, 2004.
  10. ^ "Blast From the Past Benefit Concert", Theater Mania, April 4, 2011.
  11. ^ Regular Show Season 4 Episode 10 closing credits