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

Chenault, Lawrence E.

(born: 1877  -  died: 1943) 

Lawrence E. Chenault was born in Mt. Sterling, KY, the son of William O. Chenault and Mollie Mitchell. His family later moved to Cincinnati, OH, where he was a soloist at the Allen Temple Church. He is listed in the 1900 U.S. Census as Lawrence Saunders; his stepfather was Ambrose Saunders. Lawrence E. Chenault's mother, Mollie Mitchell, had married Ambrose Saunders in 1888. Ambrose Saunders was also from Kentucky and  employed as a janitor in Cincinnati. 

His stepson, Lawrence Chenault, joined Al G. Field's Negro Minstrels in 1895 and two years later was a featured tenor and character, "Golden Hair Neil," with A. G. Field's Darkest American Company. He was also in Black Patti's Troubadours and a number of other groups. He performed with Ernest Hogan in the M. B. Curtis Minstrels, touring America, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and Hawaii. On the return to the U.S., Chenault spent time performing in San Francisco before rejoining Hogan on the Smart Set.

Chenault would become the first leading man with the Lafayette Players Stock Company. In 1928, he  collapsed on stage and after being seen by a doctor, was advised to take time away from acting to cope with the death of ventriloquist Johnnie Woods, Chenault's roommate and "constant friend, companion, and co-worker" [source: "Chenault stricken by loss of friend," The Afro-American, 9/08/1928, p. 2].

Chenault did return to acting and performed in Black films, appearing in more leading roles than any other actor in silent films, 22 between 1920 and 1934 [filmography]. He lived and performed in New York during the 1920s and 1930s and lived in Indianapolis in the 1940s [sources: U.S. Census records].

Chenault died from pneumonia in 1943 and is buried in Floral Park in Indianapolis. The birth date on his death certificate [Registered #39095] is incorrect. [source: U. S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index]

For more see "Lawrence E. Chenault" in Blacks in Blackface, by S. T. Sampson.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Montgomery County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Mt. Sterling, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Crowders, Reuben [Ernest Hogan]
NKAA Source: Blacks in blackface: a source book on early Black musical shows
NKAA Source: Ancestry (online)

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Chenault, Lawrence E.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 13, 2024,

Last modified: 2020-11-06 18:35:37