A STAR FOR ETHEL WATERS
Category: Motion Pictures
Portrait of Ethel Waters from Cabin in the Sky. November 17, 1940.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten collection, [reproduction number, LOT 12735, no. 1158]
First African-American nominated for an Emmy Award in 1962 (Route 66, "Good Night, Sweet Blues" guest appearance aired October 6, 1961)
Second African-American nominated for an Oscar (Pinky, 1950)
First African-American to star in a Broadway play (Mamba's Daughters, 1939)*
First African-American actress to star in a television series (Beulah, 1950)*
First to sing "Stormy Weather" into history on the radio in 1933
First international hit song by an African-American: "Dinah"
First woman to scat. Ethel began scatting before it was called scat! Along with Louis Armstrong, they created what was to become an art form.
Sang "Down Home Blues" (clip from mog.com) and "Oh, Daddy" (video from YouTube) on Black Swan Records' first hit recording (1921)*
Became the musical bridge (singing style) between Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday.
“Unlike Bessie, I liked singing soft and low. So that’s how I sang St. Louis Blues for my debut and it was the first time Negro audiences ever let my kind of low singing get by… I learned on Bessie and Ma Rainey’s raw blues. But I sang the blues soft with perfect diction. With me, the blues came out of the backwoods… to reach white people. They ate ‘em up. Then Billie Holiday, Sophie Tucker, Bing Crosby, Lena Horne and so on, learned on me.” — The Incomparable Ethel Waters: A Night of Stormy Weather, a solo performance written and performed by Rose Weaver
Stage Musical Appearances:
Hello 1919!, 1919
Jump Steady, 1922
Plantation Revue, 1925
Black Bottom, 1926
Miss Calico, 1926-27
Paris Bound, 1927
Ethel Waters Broadway Revue, 1928
Rhapsody in Black, 1930, 1933
From Broadway Back to Harlem, 1932
Stormy Weather, 1933
As Thousands Cheer, 1934 (Music Box Theatre)
Cabin in the Sky, 1940 (Martin Beck Theatre)
Portrait of Ethel Waters as Hagar in Mamba's Daughters, February 19, 1939.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten collection, [reproduction number, LOT 12735, no. 1167]
Film History includes:
On With the Show, 1929
Rufus Jones for President, 1933 (co-starring with Sammy Davis, Jr., photo gallery, video from YouTube)
Cairo, 1942 (with Jeannette MacDonald & Robert Young, video from YouTube)
Tales of Manhattan, 1942 (co-starring with Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, & Paul Robeson)
Stage Door Canteen, 1943 (including Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Ray Bolger, Ralph Bellamy, Edgar Bergen, and Helen Hayes, video clip on Turner Classic Movies)
Cabin in the Sky, 1943 (directed by Vincente Minnelli, co-starring with Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Lena Horne, & Louis Armstrong, trailer from YouTube)
Pinky, 1949 (Oscar nomination, directed by Elia Kazan, co-starring with Jeanne Crain & Ethel Barrymore, film trailer from YouTube)
The Member of the Wedding, 1953 (with Julie Harris, YouTube video clip singing "His Eye is on the Sparrow")
The Heart Is a Rebel, 1958 (with Billy Graham)
The Sound and the Fury, 1959 (with Yul Brynner and Joanne Woodward, video clip from YouTube)
Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, 1963
Appeared in dramas on stage:
Appeared on television programs, including starring in the series Beulah, ABC-TV, 1950-51 (video clip from YouTube).
Author of His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Greenwood Press, 1951, and To Me It's Wonderful, Harper & Row, 1972.
The first to headline a show at New York's Palace Theatre and the first to star in a dramatic play on Broadway. In her later years, she was nominated for an Academy Award.
Academy Award (Oscar) Nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, 1950, for Pinky
Emmy Award Nomination for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, 1962, for the episode "Goodnight, Sweet Blues" of Route 66
New York Drama Critics Award for best actress, 1950, for Member of the Wedding
Tamiment Institute Award, 1951, for His Eye Is on the Sparrow
St. Genesius Medal from American National Theater and Academy, 1951
U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp, 1994
AUDIO and VIDEO
The Life and Career of Ethel Waters, The Leonard Lopate Show, interviewing Donald Bogle, author of Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters (NPR Podcast)
Sweet Georgia Brown, 1925 (YouTube)
Am I Blue?, 1929 (YouTube)
Miss Otis Regrets, 1934 (YouTube)
Many other audio and video clips can be viewed on YouTube. Just type "Ethel Waters" in the search box.
*Source: African American Firsts: famous, little-known and unsung triumphs of blacks in America by Joan Potter (Dafina Books, 2002).