(October 31, 1896 – September 1, 1977) U.S.A.
Ethel Waters was an African-American singer and actress. She frequently performed jazz, big band, and pop music, on the Broadway stage and in concerts, but she began her career in the 1920s singing blues. Waters notable recordings include "Dinah", "Stormy Weather", "Taking a Chance on Love", "Heat Wave", "Supper Time", "Am I Blue?", "Cabin in the Sky", "I'm Coming Virginia", and her version of the spiritual "His Eye Is on the Sparrow".
Waters was the second African American, after Hattie McDaniel, to be nominated for an Academy Award. She was also the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award, in 1962.
Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, as a result of the rape of her teenaged mother, Louise Anderson (believed to have been 13 years old at the time, although some sources indicate she may have been slightly older), by John Waters, a pianist and family acquaintance from a mixed-race middle-class background. He played no role in raising Ethel.
Soon after she was born, her mother married Norman Howard, a railroad worker. Ethel used the surname Howard as a child, before reverting to her father's name. She was raised in poverty by her grandmother, Sally Anderson, who worked as a housemaid, along with two of her aunts and an uncle. Waters never lived in the same place for more than 15 months. She said of her difficult childhood, "I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family."
Waters grew tall, standing 5' 9?" in her teens. According to the jazz historian and archivist Rosetta Reitz, Waters's birth in the North and her peripatetic life exposed her to many cultures. Waters married at the age of 13, but her husband was abusive, and she soon left the marriage and became a maid in a Philadelphia hotel, working for $4.75 per week.
On her 17th birthday, she attended a costume party at a nightclub on Juniper Street. She was persuaded to sing two songs and impressed the audience so much that she was offered professional work at the Lincoln Theatre in Baltimore. She later recalled that she earned the rich sum of ten dollars a week, but her managers cheated her out of the tips her admirers threw on the stage.
Ethel Waters was one of the most popular African-American singers and actresses of the 1920s. She moved to New York in 1919 after touring in vaudeville shows as a singer and a dancer. She made her recording debut in 1921 on Cardinal records with "The New York Glide" and "At the New Jump Steady Ball", but switched over to African-American owned Black Swan label, and recorded "Down Home Blues" and "Oh Daddy" the first Blues numbers for that company.
She frequently sang with Fletcher Henderson during the early 1920s, but by the mid-1920s Waters had became more of a pop singer. She performed in a number of musical revues throughout the rest of the decade and appeared a couple of films, including "Check and Double Check" with Amos 'n' Andy and Duke Ellington. By the end of the 1930s she was a big star on Broadway.
In 1949, she was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress in the film "Pinky", and the next year she won the New York Drama Critics Award for best actress. Waters got religion in the late Fifties and performed and toured with evangelist Billy Graham until her death in 1977.
Waters had romantic relationships with women as well as men. In her later years, Waters often toured with the preacher Billy Graham on his "crusades". Waters died aged 80, from uterine cancer, kidney failure, and other ailments, in Chatsworth, California. She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale). Waters was the great-aunt of the singer-songwriter Crystal Waters.
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