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Amanda Randolph: The First Black TV Star

This article is a part of my Melanin Arts series, which is dedicated to the achievements and contributions of artistic people of color.


Amanda Randolph

Amanda E. Randolph was born on September 2, 1896, in Louisville, Kentucky. She was immensely talented in the performing arts as she was an accomplished actress, singer, and musician. She was the older sister of another famed black actress of the classic film and TV era, Lillian Randolph.

Although other black actors from the era became more well-known than Randolph, she was the first African-American performer to star in a regularly scheduled network television series. In fact, she headlined two network television shows back-to-back.

The First Black Actor to Star in a TV Show

Her first starring role was on the DuMont Television Network in 1948 in a sitcom called The Laytons. The Laytons was watched by only a handful of viewers, so few people actually remember the show. It was largely insignificant to audiences despite the positive reviews it garnered.

However, the show established Randolph's place in black history as the first African American to headline an American television series, and the show paved the way for later TV shows featuring black performers.

First Black Actor to Host a Variety Show

Later in 1948, Randolph appeared again on DuMont on a daytime series titled Amanda, where she was the titular character. Amanda was viewed by a larger audience than The Laytons, and Randolph both hosted and sang on the variety-style show.

Randolph made black history yet again for being the first African American to host her own show. Unfortunately, Amanda was cancelled a year later, and like most other shows from the DuMont Television Network during its heyday, there are no surviving episodes of either show, because recording technology did not exist at the time.

Amanda also gained notoriety as the Kingfish's mother-in-law on the famous classic TV show, Amos 'n' Andy.

From Black Actor to Black Entrepreneur

Randolph was bitten by the showbiz bug early in life as she began giving piano performances at age 14. Her family moved around a lot, so she played piano and organ, and gave vocal performances all across the state of Ohio. She was also a talented composer who authored the jazz standard I'm Gonna Jazz My Way Right Straight Thru Paradise, and she co-authored Cryin' Blues with H. C. Washington.

She eventually performed in radio shows, cut records, recorded an entire album titled Blues & Jazz Obscurities, joined a musical, worked in burlesque and vaudeville shows as a comedian and singer, did a stint on Broadway, and when television came onto the scene...she was there.

In 1932, Randolph became an entrepreneur as she and her fiance, Harry Hansberry, ran a restaurant called The Clam House. The Clam House was a favorite among the New York City show business crowd.

In 1936, Randolph began a film career with the Black Network, where she was cast in several projects by the famed African American film director Oscar Micheaux. She had roles in Lying Lips and The Notorious Elinor Lee among many others.

Talent for the performing arts ran in the Randolph family as Amanda's sister, Lillian, also made a name for herself in show business. Lillian was the star of the hit radio and television series The Beulah Show in the mid-1950s.

In the late 1950s, Amanda and Harry broke up, and she relocated from New York to Los Angeles where she opened yet another restaurant. This time her restaurant was called Mama's Place, and Amanda was the main chef in the kitchen. As she was now in Hollywood, she won many roles on television shows as a supporting cast member.

Her Final Act

Randolph continued acting in television series well into the 1960s. She had roles from The Danny Thomas Show to the Barbara Stanwyck Show. She gained more visibility in Thomas' other hit classic TV show Make Room for Daddy, where she played the family's maid.

On August 24, 1967, Amanda Randolph died of a stroke at the age of 70. She is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills beside her famous sister, Lillian Randolph.



Chris Cooling on June 19, 2020:

In addition to these firsts, I discovered she was the first black person in any TV commercial. In 1944, in an experimental TV broadcast of the radio show 'Ladies Be Seated,' she delivered a commercial...for Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Yes, she portrayed the fictional Aunt Jemima on radio for several years...from 1944 to possibly as late as 1952/3, having taken over the role from white actresses Tess Gardella, Harriet Widmer and Vera Lane.

Rachelle Williams (author) from Tempe, AZ on October 01, 2018:

Right? I had never heard of her until I did this research, it's too bad most people don't really know here. Thank you for your support!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 30, 2018:

Thanks for these interesting facts on Amanda Randolp's stardom. What an outstanding TV title to hold!