Who Was Zilpha Sawyer?

Zilpha Sawyer is the sister of American actress Esther Rolle. She was born on December 7, 1912, to her parents, Jonathan Rolle and Elizabeth Iris Dames Rolle. Zilpha was one of the eighteen children of Jonathan and Elizabeth; the others include actresses Estelle Evans, Rosanna Carter, and Esther Rolle.

Personal Life, Education, and Career

In her personal life, Zilpha Sawyer married Stanley Dallas Sawyer on May 31, 1935, in Florida, USA. The couple stayed together up to 1991, when Stanley died. It is unclear if Zilpha Sawyer had any children with Stanley Sawyer because there is no mention of children in both of their obituaries.

There is no information if Zilpha Sawyer attended school, but her younger sister Esther Rolle attended Blanche Ely High School, so she also probably went to school. Details about what she did to earn a living have not been mentioned.

Her Sister

Esther Rolle is most known for her role as Florida Evans on the sitcom Good Times running from for five years from 1974 to 1979. For her spectacular performance in Good Times, Zilpha’s sister was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Musical or Comedy Series.

Zilpha Sawyer’s sister worked a day job in New York City for a long time before entering the entertainment industry. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she was part of Shogolo Oloba, a dance troupe; the troupe was later renamed the Federal Theater African Dance Troupe, with Esther becoming the troupe’s director in 1960.

Rolle started featuring in plays later, produced by Robert Hooks, Negro Ensemble Company, and The Crucible. She was also involved in filmography, her earliest roles were Nothing But a Man, Up the Down Staircase, and One Life to Live.

In the 1970s, Zilpha’s sister was featured as Florida in two sitcoms. First in Maude and then in its spin-off series Good Times. After the fourth season of Good Times, Rolle had an issue with producer Norman Lear, and she quitted the show but then returned in the show’s final season.

Zilpha Sawyer’s sister won an Emmy Award in 1979 for her role in the movie Summer of My German Soldier. Esther’s other movie and film credits include Don’t Play Us Cheap, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Darkroom, The Love Boat, Ethic Notions, Murder, She Wrote, House of Cards, Rosewood, Down in the Delta, and Touched by an Angel.

In Zilpha’s sister’s personal life, she was married once to Oscar Robinson, but their marriage ended after 20 years in 1975, and they did not have any children together. Esther Rolle died in November 1998 in California due to complications of diabetes aged 78.


Zilpha Sawyer died on January 8, 2002, aged 89. Any of her family members did not reveal the cause of her death, but it is probably due to old age and the complications that come with old age. She was buried in Westview Community Cemetery in Pompano Beach, Broward County, Florida, United States of America.

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