Just so that we don’t forget where we come from here’s my tribute to Ethel Waters. Who? You may ask. Well that’s why it’s important to do these….
Ethel Waters was first and foremost a survivor. Now this isn’t going to be one of those “she was a strong Black woman” meme reinforcements. She did have some serious obstacles to overcome given that her birth was the result of a violation. It just goes to show why the current focus on the health and welfare of Black women and girls in particular is such important work for some of us and needs to be continued. Like many people who have stories to tell she was able to successfully pursue a career in the arts. Given the time she lived (1896-1977) she would’ve definitely had some I bet!
She was the second African-American woman nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie Pinky. She wrote an autobiography of her life. She was part of the Harlem Renaissance. She was the first African-American woman to have her own variety show. Her contemporaries ranged from Bessie Smith to Julie Harris and she influenced some of those we consider greats like Billie Holiday.
Via AfroAm History: Waters’ success was related to her style of singing. She could sing like other classic blues singers with plenty of passion and fire, but she had a unique approach. She was not a shouter, but was able to hold the attention of the audience with her low and sweet voice. Because of her varied repertoire, she has also been categorized as a jazz singer. Her rhythm was closer to jazz than blues, and in her later career she sang popular songs with a jazz approach. Waters’ talent extended beyond musical style; she also had the gift of interpretation. As blues women began to fade in popularity, Waters was able use her interpretive ability to take advantage of acting opportunities on stage and screen.