She was the premier black film actress during the late 1930s and early 1940s. During a summer while Harris was a student at Wadleigh High School, Manhattan, she worked at the Alhambra Theater doing dramatic sketches with a stock company. During this period, she received excellent training in diction and stage delivery through her association with veteran performers.
Her first real break came when she landed a part in The Green Pastures (1936), portraying Zeba, starring with Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.
Harris was a leading lady in Spirit of Youth (1938), the story of the rise of boxer Joe Thomas, which paralleled the life of Joe Louis. She also had leading roles in Oscar Micheaux films, Lying Lips (1939), and The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940).
Her film credits also include such Hollywood films as Bullets or Ballots (1936), Private Number (1936), and Garden of Allah (1936), and the independent film Paradise in Harlem in 1939. Between picture commitments she toured with Noble Sissle"s Orchestra as a featured vocalist along with Lena Horne and Billy Banks.
In 1942, she played fourteen weeks at the old Elks" Rendezvous as the mistress of ceremonies and announced a weekly radio show over station WMCA in New York City.
She also did character dialect parts on many broadcasts for the Columbia Workshop Program. Edna Mae Harris got to tell her story in her later years in the documentary, Midnight Ramble (1994), about independently produced black films.