October 31, 1896, in Chester, Pennsylvania, her eighty year life
was a turbulent one filled with low valleys and high peaks. In
her autobiography, "His
Eye is on the Sparrow," she frankly detailed the nastiness
of her childhood and early struggles. After many amateur
night performances in Philadelphia Ethel's singing career began.
Then she slowly moved into the Black theater route, where she
was nicknamed as "Sweet Mama String bean."
Ethel Waters publicity still circa 1939
To attain the lofty position she reached as a headliner, Ethel
Waters must have been the pacesetter who unfastened all the theatrical
doors which were, until then, closed to African American entertainers of
her day. She strived long and hard to accomplish solo star standing
in the white world of Broadway Theater, night clubs, vaudeville,
radio, films and television.
She began recording in 1921 for the Black Swan label, continuing
with that company through 1924. When she introduced "Dinah"
at the famous Plantation Club (Broadway and 50th Street) in New
York City in 1925, she met with such success that she was signed
by Columbia Records, for whom she was to make many of her most
famous recordings during the next decade. At the same time, she
became the first black to star in a sponsored coast-to-coast old time radio show, accompanied by the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra.Please note these recordings are also available in
the larger chronological Divas
of Old Time Radio Collection.