Ethel Waters - Singer and Actress

Ethel Waters - Chester

Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1896. She was raised in poverty and 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."

Her career began in Baltimore when she was 17, and she toured on the black vaudeville circuit. As she described it later, "I used to work from nine until unconscious."

At the age of 25 she traveled to Harlem where she got her first job at Edmond's Cellar, a club with black patronage, and became a noted figure of the Harlem Renaissance.

Waters performed and recorded all types of music: blues, jazz, gospel, pop and even big band, and was known for her songs Dinah, Stormy Weather, Heat Wave, Cabin in the Sky and her version of the spiritual His Eye is on the Sparrow.

She had several acting roles and was the second African American to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1949 for the film Pinky. She also was nominated for an Emmy, received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, and has been approved for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star has not yet been funded.

From 1950-51 she wrote her autobiography His Eye is on the Sparrow with Charles Samuels, in which she wrote candidly about her life.

She died in California in 1977.