Open main menu

Ernestine Wade (August 7, 1906 – April 15, 1983) was an American actress who is best known for playing the role of Sapphire Stevens on both the radio and TV versions of The Amos 'n' Andy Show.

Ernestine Wade
Ernestine wade 1951.jpg
Ernestine Wade as Sapphire Stevens on
The Amos 'n' Andy Show (TV, 1951-53)
Born(1906-08-07)August 7, 1906
DiedApril 15, 1983(1983-04-15) (aged 76)
Years active1940–1975


Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Wade was trained as a singer and organist. Her family had a strong connection to the theater. Her mother, Hazel Wade, worked in vaudeville as a performer, while her maternal grandmother, Mrs. Johnson, worked for the Lincoln Theater in Baltimore, Maryland.[1]

Ernestine grew up in Los Angeles and started her acting career at age four.[2] In 1935, Ernestine was a member of the Four Hot Chocolates singing group.[3] She appeared in bit parts in films and did the voice performance of a butterfly in the 1946 Walt Disney production Song of the South.[4] Wade was a member of the choir organized by actress-singer Anne Brown for the filming of the George Gershwin biographical film Rhapsody in Blue (1945) and appeared in the film as one of the "Catfish Row" residents in the Porgy and Bess segment.[5] She enjoyed the highest level of prominence on Amos 'n Andy by playing the shrewish, demanding and manipulative wife of George “Kingfish” Stevens.[6] Wade, Johnny Lee, and Lillian Randolph, Amanda Randolph, Jester Hairston, Roy Glenn (and several others) were among the Amos 'n' Andy radio cast members to also appear in the TV series.

Ernestine began playing Sapphire Stevens in 1939,[7][8][9] but originally came to the Amos 'n' Andy radio show in the role of Valada Green, a lady who believed she had married Andy.[2] In her interview which is part of the documentary Amos 'n' Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy, Wade related how she got the job with the radio show. Initially there for a singing role, she was asked if she could "do lines". When the answer was yes, she was first asked to say "I do" and then to scream; the scream got her the role of Valada Green. Ernestine also played the radio roles of The Widow Armbruster, Sara Fletcher, and Mrs. Van Porter.[10]

In a 1979 interview, Ernestine related that she would often be stopped by strangers who recognized her from the television show, saying, "I know who you are and I want to ask you, is that your real husband?" At her home, she had framed signed photos from the members of the Amos 'n' Andy television show cast. Tim Moore, her TV husband, wrote the following on his, "My Best Wishes To My Darling Battle Ax From The Kingfish Tim Moore".[11]

Wade defended her character against criticism of being a negative stereotype of African American women. In a 1973 interview, she stated, “I know there were those who were offended by it, but I still have people stop me on the street to tell me how much they enjoyed it. And many of those people are black members of the NAACP.” [12] The documentary Amos 'n' Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy covered the history of the radio and television shows as well as interviews with surviving cast members. Ernestine was among them, and she continued her defense of the show and those with roles in it.[13] She believed that the roles she and her colleagues played made it possible for African-American actors who came later to be cast in a wider variety of roles. She also considered the early typecast roles, where women were most often cast as maids, not to be damaging, seeing them in the sense of someone being either given the role of the hero or the part of the villain.[14]

In later years, she continued as an actress, doing more voice work for radio and cartoons.[15][16] After Amos 'n' Andy, Wade did voice work in television and radio commercials.[17][18][19] Ernestine also did office work and played the organ.[20] She also appeared in a 1967 episode of TV's Family Affair as a maid working for a stage actress played by Joan Blondell.[21]


Ernestine Wade is buried in Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.[22] Since she had no headstone, the West Adams Heritage Association marked her grave with a plaque.[23]


  1. ^ "50th Year for Lincoln Theater". Baltimore Afro American. 12 September 1959. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  2. ^ a b "What Happened to TV Stars of Amos 'n' Andy?". Jet. 10 December 1981. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  3. ^ "Photo of Four Hot Chocolates Singing Group". Los Angeles Public Library. 1935. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  4. ^ "Actress from the Delta, Ernestine Wade". African-American Registry. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  5. ^ Levette, Harry (11 September 1942). "Critics Cheer Anne Brown". The Afro American. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  6. ^ Bogle, Donald. “Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television,” Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. ISBN 0-374-52718-0
  7. ^ BCL (1 October 1945). "Riding the Airwaves". Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  8. ^ Clayton, Bruce (20 September 1986). "Humor sensed, history isn't". The Milwaukee Journal.
  9. ^ Levette, Harry (5 June 1951). "About People-in Hollywood". Baltimore Afro-American. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  10. ^ Sterling, Christopher H., ed. (2003). Encyclopedia of Radio 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 1696. ISBN 1-57958-249-4. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  11. ^ "A Converation with 'Sapphire' and 'Amos'". Yoda' Retrieved 10 November 2010.
  12. ^ Nachman, Gerald, ed. (2000). Raised on Radio. University of California Press. p. 544. ISBN 0-520-22303-9. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  13. ^ MacDonald, J. Fred. "Blacks and White TV, African Americans in Television Since 1948". Retrieved 20 October 2010.
  14. ^ MacDonald, J. Fred. "Don't Touch That Dial! radio programming in American life, 1920-1960". Retrieved 20 October 2010.
  15. ^ Whatever happened to The Amos 'n' Andy Cast?. Ebony. July 1973. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  16. ^ "Willie Mays and the say Hey Kid". 10 October 1972. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
  17. ^ "Ernestine Wade letter". 2 July 1981. p. 1. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  18. ^ "Ernestine Wade letter". 2 July 1981. p. 2. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  19. ^ "Ernestine Wade: Sapphire on Amos 'n' Andy". Bill Cappello. 24 April 2008. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  20. ^ Ingram, Billy. "End of the Franchise". TV Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  21. ^ "Family Affair episode "Somebody Upstairs"". IMDB. 11 December 1967. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  22. ^ "2008 Living History Tour". West Adams Heritage. Archived from the original on 3 February 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
  23. ^ "Photo-Ernestine Wade Plaque-Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery". West Adams Heritage Association. Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2010.

External linksEdit