Rosetta LeNoire, veteran actress best known for her portrayal of Mother Winslow on ABC’s “Family Matters” but also noted for an illustrious career that culminated in the National Medal of Arts in 1999, died Sunday March 17 of natural causes at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J. She was 90.
Born in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, she took music lessons from music legend Eubie Blake at age 13; by 15 was a chorus girl working with her godfather, dancing great Bill “Bojangles” Robinson; was directed by Orson Welles in the landmark, all-black version of “Macbeth” in the 1930s; and in 1939 made her Broadway debut in the Michael Todd presentation “The Hot Mikado.” Other Broadway credits included “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Lost in the Stars,” “Destry Rides Again,” “I Had a Ball,” “Sophie” the revival of “Cabin in the Sky” and “Anna Lucasta,” in which she also toured and co-starred in the film version with Sammy Davis Jr. and Eartha Kitt.
Other feature credits include “Moscow on the Hudson,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Playing for Keeps,” “Daniel,” “Whatever It Takes” and “Brewster’s Millions.” She was on
Other TV credits included “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Guiding Light” and “A World Apart.” She essayed the role of Nell Carter’s mother on NBC’s “Gimme A Break.” She was on “Family Matters” for eight seasons.
In 1968, she founded the nonprofit multiracial Amas Repertory Theater dedicated to developing musicals and new talent, and served as its artistic director. It has produced such shows as “Bojangles,” “Rollin’ on the T.O.B.A.” and Tony nominee “Bubbling Brown Sugar.”
In 1999, she was honored by President and Mrs. Clinton as a recipient of the National Medal of Arts. She also received the Kennedy Center Black Playwright’s Award for Excellence in developing new works and the Richard L. Coe Award for extending the boundaries of theater, plus numerous other awards.
Actor’s Equity in 1989 honored her, when it established the annual Rosetta LeNoire Award and made her its first recipient. She served as a trustee for the Actors Fund and most recently as an honorary trustee.
She is survived by a son, a brother, a sister, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. on Fridayat St. Francis of Rome, East 236th St., Bronx.
In lieu of flowers, family suggests donations in her name be made to AMAS Musical Theatre, Inc., 450 West 42nd St., Suite 2J, New York, NY 10036.