Ethel Waters, from Blues to Broadway
This date marks the birth of Ethel Waters in 1896. She was an African American entertainer, vocalist, and actress.
Born in Chester, Pennsylvania, Waters went to New York City in 1919 after singing and dancing on the East Coast and the Southern vaudeville and cabaret circuit. Due to her slender appearance, she was billed as Sweet Mama String-bean. In 1921, she cut two songs for Cardinal Records and became the first artist to release a blues record on the Black-owned Black Swan label, recording "Down Home Blues" and "Oh Daddy.”
With smooth, well-defined phrasing and a meticulous sense of timing, the singing style of Ethel Waters rated with the best of the era's vocalists. By the mid-1920s, Waters had stopped singing the blues. Her style changed to that of a successful pop singer. Waters performed in a number of revues, including "Africana," "Paris Bound," and "The Ethel Waters Broadway Revue." In 1929 she landed her first acting role in the film "On with the Show." She appeared in "Pinky" in 1949, which won her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.
On Broadway, Ethel Waters appeared in "Mamba's Daughters," though her greatest theatrical achievement was in 1950 when she played a cook in the play "The Member of the Wedding" and won the New York Drama Critics Award for best actress. She penned two autobiographies, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and "To Me It's Wonderful." Ethel Waters also toured with evangelist Billy Graham from 1957 until her death in 1977.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
Today in American History