Ethel Waters was a multi-talented singer and actor, the second African-American to be nominated for an Oscar, and the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Emmy. But the remnants of Ethel’s far-reaching career that I love most are her 1920-30s jazz recordings, some of which are available on a RCA Victor compilation released in the early 70s. My absolute favorite is the beautifully haunting “You’re Mine,” a must-listen.
Waters had a difficult start in life, conceived when her mother was raped by a family friend, Waters was raised by her grandmother; the pair moved constantly and Waters found herself married to an abusive man at age 13. She divorced and left home to perform in black vaudeville clubs and even joined a carnival before trying to break into singing alongside her contemporary Bessie Smith, who disallowed Waters from singing blues songs when they performed in the same venue.
Waters’ career dipped in the early 50s, despite her acting fame, and she died in the late 70s, at age 80. You don’t hear her name much anymore, but it’s easy to pick up some of her old records cheaply, and you wouldn’t be sorry if you did.