Ethel Waters

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Ethel Waters (between 1938 and 1948)
(detail from a photo by William P. Gottlieb )

Ethel Waters (born October 31, 1896 in Chester County , Pennsylvania , † September 1, 1977 in Los Angeles , California ) was an American actress and singer .

Live and act

Waters sang mainly jazz , but also gospels , well-known Broadway melodies and together with big bands . For the author Will Friedwald , their references to black and white pop music are ambivalent; "It stands very much in the tradition of the heavy vaudeville of the early 1920s and before that as well as the modern jazz-influenced pop music that followed Armstrong and Crosby ".

She grew up near Philadelphia , worked as a housekeeper, and married for the first time at the age of twelve. She trained herself to sing. She was discovered at a talent competition and got her first engagement. In the summer of 1921 she received her first recording contract from Black Swan Records ; together with Fletcher Henderson , she saved the company from bankruptcy. She was one of the first well-known jazz singers and was based on Bessie Smith . Ethel Waters defied racism through talent and bravery. Her notoriety rose when she performed popular songs like “ Am I Blue? "And" Stormy Weather "sang. The song " Dinah " brought her great success with the "white" audience.

Waters managed the transition from the jazz of the twenties to the "pop music" of the thirties . She influenced many female singers, such as Mildred Bailey , Lee Wiley and Connee Boswell . With her husband, the trumpeter Eddie Mallory , she toured the United States and appeared on Broadway in the revues "Africana" (1927), "As Thousands Cheer" (1933) and "At Home Abroad" (1935). Armstrong's great influence was evident in their 1928 version of the West End Blues.

1929 Waters was for the first time in the cinema, in the musical "On With the Show" by Warner Brothers to see; the song "Am I Blue?" became her first number 1 hit in the Billboard Top 30 . In 1933 she recorded for Columbia the Irving Berlin title "Harlem on My Mind", which comes from the Broadway show As Thousands Cheer and was intended as a parody of Josephine Baker ; it contained the "damn clever" ( "Line damn refined "), which traces its own personality. Her second number one hit was "Stormy Weather," which Harold Arlen had previously written for the 22nd  Cotton Club Parade ; when the designated Cab Calloway was not available, Ethel Waters sang it, accompanied by the Duke Ellington Orchestra . For the recording of the song she was accompanied by a studio band led by Bunny Berigan , Joe Venuti and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey .

In 1940 she starred in Vernon Duke's Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky ; in the film version she sang Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe . Waters later switched to dramatic roles without singing. Waters received great recognition for her performance in the motion picture Pinky and The Member of the Wedding . In 1951 she wrote her autobiography "His eye is on the sparrow" with Charles Samuels. After 1960 she devoted herself entirely to religious work with and for the evangelist Billy Graham . Ethel Waters was posthumously from the 1984 Gospel Music Association in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame received the Gospel Music Association.

Discographic notes

Ethel Waters (1938)

Waters released the following albums, among others:

  • Album 1921-24
  • Incomparable Ethel Waters
  • Cocktail hour
  • Takin 'A Chance on Love
  • On Stage and Screen (Columbia)
  • Push Out, 1938–39 (Jazz Archives) (Contains recordings for Bluebird Records )

Filmography (selection)



  • Ethel Waters with Charles Samuels: His Eye Is On The Sparrow - An Autobiography . NY: Doubleday 1951.
  • Ethel Waters: To Me It's Wonderful . NY: Harper & Row 1972.


  • Will Friedwald: Swinging Voices of America - A Compendium of Great Voices . Hannibal, St. Andrä-Wölker 1992, ISBN 3-85445-075-3 .

Web links

Commons : Ethel Waters  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Friedwald, p. 20.
  2. See Friedwald, p. 20.
  3. See Gerhard Klußmeier: Jazz in the Charts. Another view on jazz history. Liner notes (14/100) and accompanying book of the 100 CD edition. Membrane International GmbH. ISBN 978-3-86735-062-4
  4. ^ Carlo Bohländer and Karl-Heinz Holler: Jazz Guide . Stuttgart 1977
  5. Selection, overview see here