Rosetta LeNoire

Rosetta LeNoire (born Rosetta Olive Burton; August 8, 1911 March 17, 2002) was an American stage, screen, and television actress, as well as a Broadway producer and casting agent. LeNoire is known to contemporary audiences for her work in television. She had regular roles on the series Gimme a Break! and Amen, but is perhaps best known for her role as Estelle "Mother Winslow" (Carl's mother) on Family Matters, which ran from 1989 to 1998. In 1999, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[1]

Rosetta LeNoire
Rosetta Olive Burton

(1911-08-08)August 8, 1911
DiedMarch 17, 2002(2002-03-17) (aged 90)
Resting placeCypress Hills National Cemetery
OccupationActress, producer, casting agent
Years active1939–1998
William LeNoire
(m. 1929; div. 1943)

Egbert Brown
(m. 1948; died 1974)
AwardsNational Medal of Arts (1999)

Early life and career

Lenoire was born in Harlem, New York, 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 also 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).[3]

Amas Repertory Theater

Rosetta 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 theatre 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 theatre casting; in 1988, the award was named the Rosetta LeNoire Award.

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.

Voice acting

She was the voice of Big Bertha in Ralph Bakshi's animated feature film Fritz the Cat (1972). [4]


On March 17, 2002, LeNoire died at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey of complications from diabetes, although an article in TV Guide reported that she died of pneumonia.[5] A resident of the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, she was 90 years old at the time of her death.[6]


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",[7] 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.[8]


1958Anna LucastaStella
1972Fritz the CatBertha / Additional Female Crows (voice)
1975The Sunshine BoysOdessa, Willy's nurse
1983 DanielPrison Matron
1984Moscow on the HudsonThe Judge
The Brother From Another PlanetMum
Lily in LoveRosanna
1985Brewster's MillionsJudge R. Woods
1986Whatever It TakesMillie
1957Studio OneMaid / Mary Ellen BaileyEpisodes: "The Mother Bit" and "The Defender": Parts 1 and 2
The Green PasturesNoah's WifeTV Movie
1960Play of the WeekBelleEpisodes: "Seven Times Monday" and "The Velvet Glove"
1962Armstrong Circle TheatreKathyEpisode: "Journey to Oblivion"
1964The NursesBessie
1966ABC Stage 67WomanEpisode: "The Love Song of Barney Kempinski"
1970A World ApartMatilda
1971The Coming Asunder of Jimmy BrightTV Movie
1971-72The Guiding LightLeona HerbertEpisode: "Not with My Cousin You Don't"
1972Another WorldGloria MetcalfUnknown episodes
1973Calucci's DepartmentMizzi GordonEpisode: "The $80 Heist"
1975Guess Who's Coming to DinnerTillieTV Movie
1976Thank You, M'amMrs. Luella Bates Washington JonesShort
1977Ryan's HopeMiriam George6 episodes
The Royal FamilyDellaTV Movie
1978Fantasy IslandCool Shade / Darryl (voice)[9]Episode: "Family Reunion/Voodoo"
1980Mandy's GrandmotherLibrarianShort
Big BlondeNettieTV Movie
1982Benny's PlaceTV Movie
1984Great PerformancesRhebaEpisode: "You Can't Take It with You"
1985Tales from the DarksideMiss GillisEpisode: "Parlour Floor Front"
1985-1987Gimme a Break!Maybelle 'Mama' Harper16 episodes
1987The Father Clements StoryMrs. ClementsTV Movie
1987-1989AmenLeola Forbes / Leola Hudson8 episodes
1990Maverick SquareMrs. LewisTV Movie
1989-1997Family MattersEstelle 'Mother' WinslowMain (seasons 1-7); recurring (seasons 8-9)
1998CosbyNurseEpisode: "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 on IMDb
  5. TV Guide April 27-May 3, 2002, p. 10.
  6. Martin, Douglas. "Rosetta LeNoire, 90, Producer Who Broke Color Bar, Dies", The New York Times, March 20, 2002; accessed September 13, 2011.
  7. "Amas Musical Theatre benefit on Oct 25 includes concert presentation of 'RAISIN'", BroadwayWorld, October 12, 2004.
  8. "Blast From the Past Benefit Concert", Theater Mania, April 4, 2011.
  9. Regular Show Season 4 Episode 10 closing credits
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