He was the first actor of African descent to win an Academy Award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus in the 1946 Disney film Song of the South, in which he sang the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."
He started his film career in all-black movies that were filmed in New York including the 1932 picture Harlem is Heaven.
He provided his voice for the role of Preacher Crow in the 1940 animated feature Dumbo.
He had a wife named Margaret and he was a cousin of fellow actor Bill Cobbs.
He started his acting career beside the musician Louis Armstrong on Broadway in Hot Chocolates.