Randolph “Maas Ran” Williams (October 26, 1912 – August 11, 1980) was one of Jamaica’s most prominent and talented performing artistes. Born in Panama, he later relocated to Jamaica with his mother. He was said to have always had a passion for acting and so he began doing so at a very early age. In the early days, he used to recite poetry at church, Lodge Halls and school. However, he did not attain professional status until 1930, when he was around 18 years old. His break came when he was invited by Marcus Garvey to become a member of the vaudeville group at Edelweiss Park that he achieved professional status. Vaudeville refers to stage entertainment consisting of various acts such as performing animals, comedians, or singers.
Through the Universal Negro Improvement Association – African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) Garvey encouraged black people to express themselves through the Arts. This was at a time when the Arts was “dominated by expatriates”, according to Prof. Rupert Lewis in his book, Marcus Garvey, Anti-Colonial Champion. Garvey even went further by providing the space for this expression through the establishment of Edelweiss Park in 1927 which operated as a political and cultural centre for black Jamaicans. It was the site for musical and sporting programmes, concerts, lectures, recitations, elocution and drama contests, and historical pageants.
Ranny Williams was responsible for organizing entertainment for the thousands of people who attended meetings at Edelweiss Park. In fact, several productions at the Park have been listed as having been originated by Ranny Williams, including musical comedies such as “Blacks Gone Wild” and “She’s a Sheba“. He is also credited for a number of the farces and monologues he performed. Maas Ran also composed and sang several songs including one entitled, “The Dog-flea Song”. He was also a dancer, in fact, that is how he started out at Edelweiss Park, as a back line dancer. He explained his reason for transitioning from dancing to acting as follows:
“I was first a hoofer [back line dancer]. Soon I was a frontliner and then a feature dancer with partners in front of the frontline. A large UNIA conference was being held and Mr. Garvey gave me permission to sit in on sessions. My observations later formed the basis of successful monologues I performed imitating some of the more eccentric and popular delegates”.
Ranny Williams is easily the most popular and outstanding figure the the history of Jamaican theatre scene to have come out of the Garvey movement.