BlackPast.org Facebook BlackPast.org Twitter

Donate to BlackPast.org BlackPast Blog
  • African American History
  • African American History in the West
  • Global African History
  • Perspectives

NOTE: BlackPast.org will not disclose, use, give or sell any of the requested information to third parties.

4 + 15 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Shop Amazon and help BlackPast.org

Blackpast.org in the Classroom

Waters, Ethel (1896-1977)

Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1950, Ethel Waters was the first black American performer to star in her own regular television show, Beulah, but it was the 1961 role in the “Good Night, Sweet Blues” episode of the television series Route 66 that earned her an Emmy award.  She was the first black so honored.  Acting was a second career after singing in four different genres – jazz, blues, pop, and gospel.  She performed on Broadway stages, the first black to receive top billing with white stars.  And finally, she claimed leading roles in Hollywood films, earning an Academy Award nomination for the film Pinky.

Born on October 31, 1896, Waters won a talent contest as a teenager and began to sing around the Philadelphia area after growing up in Chester, Pennsylvania, where she sang in the church choir, and worked as a domestic.  Her first professional tour, with the Black Swan Troubadours, taught her to incorporate excitement and versatility in her vaudeville act.  Her divine discontent with just jazz and the blues propelled her into acting.  In 1938, she gave a recital at Carnegie Hall and then began to appear in dramatic roles.  She performed in Cabin in the Sky in 1943 and followed that film with more than ten others along with a treasure trove of classic songs including Am I Blue?, Memories of You, Stormy Weather, Porgy, Georgia on My Mind, and I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.

Ethel Waters even conquered the publishing world, producing two autobiographies:  His Eye is on the Sparrow and To Me It’s Wonderful.  Her personal life included three marriages.  Prior to her death in Chatsworth, California, on 1 September 1977, she had come full circle, once again singing in the church.  She worked with evangelist Billy Graham while still performing the occasional concert. 

Sources:
“Ethel Waters,” in W. Augustus, Low and Virgil A. Cliff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Black America (New York: De Capo, 1981); David Dicaire, ed., Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century (October 1999); http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/W/htmlW/watersethel/watersethel.htm

Contributor:

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Entry Categories:

Copyright 2007-2017 - BlackPast.org v3.0 NDCHost - California | blackpast@blackpast.org | Your donations help us to grow. | We welcome your suggestions. | Mission Statement

BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.