Rosetta LeNoire's incredible career as an actor in theatre, film, television and as a champion of racial equity spanned 70 years. She was a beacon for the many performers and producers who followed in her footsteps. Rosetta had a profound influence on many people, both young and old, and has left her indelible mark on the New York community.

 

In 1968, Rosetta decided to share her talent and desire to create a nurturing community by opening an interracial theatre which would provide a nurturing atmosphere for actors and a community performing arts center serving children, adults and senior citizens. She named her theatre Amas, which is Latin for "You Love."

 

Amas Musical Theatre is dedicated to bringing all people together through the creative arts. Rosetta wanted to create a community where people could work together with emphasis on individual sk1lls and without regard for race, creed, color; religion, or national origin. Rosetta used her own savings to found Amas Musical Theatre whose mission is grounded in non-traditional, multi-ethnic casting, productions, and education. Since its inception, Amas has produced over 60 original musicals, some of which have gone on to Broadway including the Tony-nominated “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and “Rollin' on the T.O.B.A.”

 

Rosetta was born in the heart of Hell's Kitchen in New York City, August 8, 1911. She was profoundly affected by the events of her early life. Her father, the late Harold Burton, a French West Indian follower of WendaII  Wilkie, was among the first licensed black plumbers and electrical engineers in New York State. His active participation, both politically and socially during the Harlem Renaissance was greatly responsible for Rosetta's commitment to community. At age 13, she began music lessons with Eubie Blake. He taught her how to "look up and be proud of yourself" and "how to drink hot chocolate with marshmallows."

Blake became Rosetta's life-long mentor until his death at 100. When Rosetta was only 15, she got a job as a chorus girl working with her godfather, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and in 1939 she made her Broadway debut in Mike Todd's “The Hot Mikado,” the first all African-American production to grace the Great White Way. Rosetta became a student at the government-sponsored WPA program held at a theatre on Delancey Street and landed a role in an all-black vers1on of “Macbeth,” produced by Orson Wells in Harlem.

Broadway credits Include “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Lost 1n the Stars,” “ Destry Rides Again,” I Had A Ball, Sophie, The Royal Family, Blues for Mr. Charley, “You Can't Take It with You” and the revival of “Cabin in the Sky.” Rosetta portrayed Stella in “Anna Lucasta” on Broadway for two years, as well as in the film version with Sammy Dav1s Jr. and Eartha Kitt.

 

Rosetta went on to perform in such television hits as “Benny's Place” with Louis Gossett, Jr., “Search for Tomorrow,” The Guiding light, Amen, A World Apart, and as Nell Carter's mother in “Gimme A Break.”

 

Rosetta's film credits include “Moscow on the Hudson,” “The Sunshine Boys,” Playing for Keeps, Daniel, Whiltever it Takes, and “Brewster's Millions.” For eight years, Rosetta portrayed Mother Winslow on ABC’s “Family Matters.”

 

Because of her pioneering work at Amas Musical Theatre, Rosetta was awarded the 1999 National Medal of Arts for "her outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the U.S." In February, 1989 Actor's Equity Association honored Rosetta when the organization established The Rosetta LeNoire Award to be presented annually, making her the first recipient. This award is given to producers who follow Rosetta's lead in multiracial casting. When Rosetta received this honor; the late Colleen Dewhurst (then President of Actor's Equity), said the award was "in recognition of her outstanding artistic contributions to the universality of the human experience in the American Theatre."

"I produce musicals. Music is one avenue where no one seems to have discriminatory attitudes. Theatre techniques are a marvelous implement to bring people of all races

colors and creeds together. You don’t worry what

color is; all you care about is the end product.”

Rosetta's joy was catching and on April 19, 1994 all of New York City celebrated "Rosetta LeNoire Day.” Rosetta made the promotion of racial tolerance her life’s work and in such living, touched and enriched the lives of her students, fellow actors and audiences. It is because of Rosetta's strength of spirit and mind that Amas, after four decades, continues to promote multiculturalism and racial tolerance in the New York City community. On March 17, 2002, Rosetta passed at the age of 90. Friends and family gathered to pay tribute to her on June 25th at the John Houseman including Donna Trinkoff, the President of the Actors Fun Joe Benincasa, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Billie Allen, Ken Prymus, Lillias White, and Amas Chairman Eric Krebs, all of whom spoke eloquently about their long lasting friendships with Rosie. We will miss her but her spirit continues through the work we do. When asked to speak about Amas Musical Theatre, Rosetta said: 

"I produce musicals. Music is one avenue where no one seems to have discriminatory attitudes. Theatre techniques are a marvelous implement to bring people of all races

colors and creeds together. You don’t worry what color is; all you care about is the end product.”

© 2019 by Amas Musical Theatre, a 501 (c)3 not-for-profit arts company

contact: amas@amasmusical.org • (212) 563-2565