Waters, Ethel

Waters, Ethel, 1896?–1977, African-American singer and actress, b. Chester, Pa. As a singer, she is noted for her sultry, sophisticated, and dramatic version of the blues, evinced in her interpretations of Am I Blue, Dinah, Heat Wave, Stormy Weather, and other songs. After beginning in black vaudeville, she appeared in Harlem night clubs in the 1920s, sang with several bands, and made her Broadway debut (1927) in the all-black revue Africana. Her later Broadway shows included the musicals Blackbirds (1930), As Thousands Cheer (1933), and Cabin in the Sky (1940; film, 1943) and the drama Mamba's Daughters (1938). Her most acclaimed dramatic role was in Member of the Wedding (play, 1950; film, 1952). In 1950 Waters became the first African-American woman to star in a television sitcom, the popular Beulah. In later years she toured with the Billy Graham crusade.

See her autobiography, His Eye Is on the Sparrow (with C. T. Samuels, 1951, repr. 1992); biographies by S. Boume (2007) and D. Bogle (2011).

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