Actress from the Delta, Ernestine Wade
*Ernestine Wade was born on this date in 1906. She was an African American actress.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, she grew up in her native South. Being an only child she would often play act by herself as a youth; she claimed this aided her characterizations and vocal abilities. She had a naturally beautiful voice and had performed professionally until the age of 13. She was also an accomplished organist. She went to Hollywood and got a job as a secretary at first, but auditioned for music opportunities and was cast to do voice-overs in the animated Disney film Song of the South 1946 as a butterfly and other characters.
In the 1940s, Wade auditioned for "Amos 'n' Andy" on radio and later TV. She was eventually cast as Sapphire, which made her a star. At one time it was the most popular program on radio in the U. S. Other Wade TV and film credits were: Unexpected Riches (1942), an Our Gang short; as Bit in Buckwheat's Dream; Three Violent People (1956), as Maid; The Girl He Left Behind (1956) as Lorna; Full of Life (1956) as Delia the Maid; Bernadine (1957) with Pat Boone, as Cleo; The Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957) as Hetty and Critic's Choice (1963) as Thelma, her final role. On TV she guest starred in The Adventures of Jim Bowie and Family Affair (1966); Playhouse 90; Sizeman and Son (1956); Somebody Upstairs (1967); and That's My Mama (1974).
She was a fine actress and a pioneer of Black actors in film. She was a very attractive lady with smiling eyes and a warm demeanor. All her professional life she fought the value of her role as “Sapphire” against those who felt it demeaning to Black women. They claimed the role was stereotypical of shrewish Black bossy wives. Her character in Amos & Andy only scolded her husband when he deserved it, but most often her character was a kindly, loving and loyal wife. Wade was one of the few cast members who 'honed down' the Black dialect.
Ernestine Wade died on April 15, 1983 in Los Angeles, California at the age of 76.
Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television
by Donald Bogle
Copyright 2001 Farrar, Straus and Giroux