Ethel Waters

Black performers in the future will benefit much from the pioneering work of African American musician Ethel Waters, whose contributions to music and entertainment have greatly contributed in eradicating racial barriers. She has contributed to the evolution of gospel music and helped to shape the sound of early jazz and blues through her powerful voice, on-stage presence, and inventive albums.

Artist History:


Ethel Waters was born October 31, 1896 in Chester, Pennslyvania 


In Chester, Pennsylvania, Ethel Waters was conceived by a young mother; her father’s identity remains unknown. Her grandmother and aunt were her primary caregivers, followed by her abusive mother and stepfather. Despite having a challenging upbringing, she went on to have a great career as a singer, actor, and entertainer. Louise Anderson was Ethel Water’s mother, and Sally Anderson was her grandmother.


Perfromers before Ethel Waters


Ethel Waters was born in 1896 and grew up in difficult circumstances in Philadelphia. Her mother was unmarried and struggled to support her family, so Ethel spent much of her childhood in poverty. Despite these challenges, she showed an early talent for singing and began performing in church at a young age.

Professional Career:


When she was just 13 years old, she left home to join a traveling show, and over the next few years, she performed in a variety of different settings, including vaudeville theaters and nightclubs. Although she faced significant discrimination as a Black performer, she persevered and continued to develop her skills, and by the 1920s, she had become one of the most popular and successful entertainers of her time.


When she joined a touring show as a youngster, Ethel Waters started her professional career as a performer in vaudeville theaters and clubs. She relocated to New York City in 1917 and started singing in Harlem, where she soon established herself as a gifted and charming performer. She recorded numerous successful songs, including “Dinah” and “Stormy Weather,” over the following few years while also performing in a number of Broadway productions. She continued to push herself creatively and explore new musical styles and genres while experiencing tremendous discrimination for being a Black musician, and she remained one of the most forward-thinking and significant artists of her era. 


Ethel Waters continued to perform and record music at the end of her career, but she also got more and more active in television and film. She made several notable TV appearances in the 1950s and 1960s, such as “Beulah” and “The Sound and the Fury,” and she also made several film appearances, such as “The Member of the Wedding” and “Pinky.” She had to overcome major obstacles as a Black performer in the entertainment business, yet she remained dedicated to her work. 


  • Victoria Spivey
  • Bessie Smith
  • Mamie Smith
  • Ma Rainey
  • Alberta Hunter


Throughout her career, Ethel Waters was influenced by a wide range of musical genres and artists. She sung in church as a child and was greatly influenced by spirituals and gospel music. Later, she was influenced by early 20th-century jazz and blues music, and she started blending these genres into her own performances. She was also influenced by other well-known artists of the day, such as Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith, who were all trailblazing Black women in the jazz and blues scenes.


Over the course of her career, Ethel Waters, a widely respected performer, won numerous accolades. She debuted in “The Ethel Waters Show,” a television program, as the first Black artist in 1950, and was later honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Additionally, she received the 1975 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for her work on the television series “Beulah.” Additionally, in 1984 and 1992, respectively, she received posthumous inductions into the American Theater Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Social Involvement: 

In 1933, the same year she debuted “Stormy Weather” at the Cotton Club, she was the first performer to address racism in a mainstream song (“Suppertime”). The first black lady to share Broadway stage time with white celebrities was Waters.


In conclusion, Ethel Waters was a pioneering performer who broke down barriers and paved the way for future generations of Black artists. She was a talented singer, actress, and entertainer who used her platform to speak out against injustice and inequality, and she inspired countless people with her music and her performances. Despite facing significant challenges and obstacles throughout her career, she remained committed to her craft and continued to push herself creatively until her death in 1977.




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