From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

McClain, William C. "Billy"

(born: 1857  -  died: 1950) Multi-talented William C. McClain was a minstrel and Hollywood motion pictures actor as well as a dancer, musician, playwright, songwriter, and short story writer. He played cornet in Lou Johnson's Minstrels and spent many years with the minstrels in Europe, living in Paris, France, from 1906-1913. He was also a member of Orpheus McAdoo's Jubilee Singers and Concert Company in Australia. One of McClain's works was The Smart Set, written in 1901. He wrote several songs, including Shake, Rattle, and Roll. McClain had also trained as a boxer, and he managed and trained famous heavyweight boxer Sam McVey.

On the screen, McClain played the role of The King in Nagana in 1933. He appeared in more than 20 movies, the last in 1946. He played various restricted roles, such as a servant, butler, footman, cook, and janitor. In 1938 he played the uncredited role of Zeke in Kentucky and in 1939 the role of a horse groomer in Pride of the Bluegrass [aka Steeplechase].

William C. McClain was the husband of Cordelia McClain and the father of actress Teddy Peters. At the time of his death, his age was estimated to be 93, but his birth year has also been given as 1866, and his birth location has been given as Kentucky and Indianapolis, IN. He died in Los Angeles, CA, on January 28, 1950.

For more see "Arrangements incomplete for actor's rites," Los Angeles Sentinel, 2/2/1950, p. A4; "Billy McClain" in Who Was Who On Screen, by E. M. Truitt; A History of African American Theater, by E. Hill and J. V. Hatch; and The Ghost Walks, by H. T. Sampson.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Los Angeles sentinel (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Who was who on screen
NKAA Source: A History of African American theatre
NKAA Source: Ghost walks: a chronological history of blacks in show business, 1865-1910

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry: Young, William "Billy"

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“McClain, William C. "Billy",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 19, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-12-24 13:14:24