A Star for Ethel Waters: About Ms. Waters

About Ms. Waters


Category: Motion Pictures

Ethel Waters, 1940 (photography by Carl Van Vechten)

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]


StarLogoFirst African-American nominated for an Emmy Award in 1962 (Route 66, "Good Night, Sweet Blues" guest appearance aired October 6, 1961)

StarLogoSecond African-American nominated for an Oscar (Pinky, 1950)
StarLogoFirst African-American to star in a Broadway play (Mamba's Daughters, 1939)*
StarLogoFirst African-American actress to star in a television series (Beulah, 1950)*
StarLogoFirst to sing "Stormy Weather" into history on the radio in 1933
StarLogoFirst international hit song by an African-American: "Dinah"
StarLogoFirst woman to scat. Ethel began scatting before it was called scat! Along with Louis Armstrong, they created what was to become an art form.
StarLogoSang "Down Home Blues" (video from YouTube) and "Oh, Daddy" (video from YouTube) on Black Swan Records' first hit recording (1921)*
StarLogoBecame 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

StarLogoStage Musical Appearances:

Hello 1919!, 1919
starJump Steady,
starPlantation Revue, 1925
starBlack Bottom,
starMiss Calico,
starParis Bound, 1927
starEthel Waters Broadway Revue,
starRhapsody in Black,
1930, 1933
starFrom Broadway Back to Harlem,
starStormy Weather,
starAs Thousands Cheer,
1934 (Music Box Theatre)
starCabin in the Sky,
1940 (Martin Beck Theatre)

Ethel Waters, 1939 (Portrait by Carl Van Vechten)

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]

StarLogoFilm History includes:

starOn With the Show, 1929
starRufus Jones for President, 1933 (co-starring with Sammy Davis, Jr., photo gallery, video from YouTube)
1942 (with Jeannette MacDonald & Robert Young
starTales of Manhattan,
1942 (co-starring with Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, & Paul Robeson)
starStage Door Canteen,
1943 (including Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Ray Bolger, Ralph Bellamy, Edgar Bergen, and Helen Hayes, video clip on Turner Classic Movies)
starCabin in the Sky,
1943 (directed by Vincente Minnelli, co-starring with Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Lena Horne, & Louis Armstrong, trailer from YouTube)
1949 (Oscar nomination, directed by Elia Kazan, co-starring with Jeanne Crain & Ethel Barrymore, film trailer from YouTube)
starThe Member of the Wedding, 1953 (with Julie Harris, YouTube video clip singing "His Eye is on the Sparrow")
starThe Heart Is a Rebel,
1958 (with Billy Graham)
starThe Sound and the Fury,
1959 (with Yul Brynner and Joanne Woodward, video clip from YouTube)
starHarriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad,

StarLogoAppeared in dramas on stage:

starMamba's Daughters, 1939 (Broadway Theatre, Empire Theatre)
starThe Member of the Wedding,
1950 (Empire Theatre, with Julie Harris)
starThe Voice of Strangers,

StarLogoAppeared on television programs, including starring in the series Beulah, ABC-TV, 1950-51 (video clip of opening credits from YouTube).

StarLogoAuthor of His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Greenwood Press, 1951, and To Me It's Wonderful, Harper & Row, 1972.

StarLogoThe 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.



      Ethel Waters Commemorative Stamp StarLogoNegro Actors Guild Award, 1949, for film Pinky
      StarLogoAcademy Award (Oscar) Nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, 1950, for Pinky
      StarLogoEmmy Award Nomination for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, 1962, for the episode "Goodnight, Sweet Blues" of Route 66
      StarLogo New York Drama Critics Award for best actress, 1950, for Member of the Wedding
      StarLogoTamiment Institute Award, 1951, for His Eye Is on the Sparrow
      StarLogoSt. Genesius Medal from American National Theater and Academy, 1951
      StarLogo U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp, 1994


*Source: African American Firsts: famous, little-known and unsung triumphs of blacks in America by Joan Potter (Dafina Books, 2002).

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