36 Facts About Ethel Waters


Ethel Waters began her career in the 1920s singing blues.


Ethel Waters was the second African American to be nominated for an Academy Award, the first African American to star on her own television show, and the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.


Ethel Waters was raised in poverty by Sally Anderson, her grandmother, who worked as a housemaid, and with two of her aunts and an uncle.


Ethel Waters never lived in the same place for more than 15 months.


Ethel Waters first married in 1910 at the age of 13, but her husband was abusive, and she soon left the marriage and became a maid in a Philadelphia hotel, working for $4.75 per week.


Ethel Waters was persuaded to sing two songs and impressed the audience so much that she was offered professional work at the Lincoln Theatre in Baltimore.


Ethel Waters recalled that she earned the rich sum of $10 per week, but her managers cheated her out of the tips her admirers threw on the stage.

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Smith demanded that Ethel Waters not compete in singing blues opposite her.


Around 1919, Ethel Waters moved to Harlem and became a performer in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.


Jazz historian Rosetta Reitz pointed out that by the time Ethel Waters returned to Harlem in 1921, women blues singers were among the most powerful entertainers in the country.


In 1921, Ethel Waters became the fifth black woman to make a record, for tiny Cardinal Records.


Ethel Waters later joined Black Swan, where Fletcher Henderson was her accompanist.


Ethel Waters recorded for Black Swan from 1921 through 1923.


Around that time, Ethel Waters was approached by Maury Greenwald for the London run of Plantation Days, although she later joined the company on its return to Chicago in August 1923, as an "extra added attraction" to "save the fast-flopping revue".


Ethel Waters started working with Pearl Wright, and they toured in the South.


In 1924, Ethel Waters played at the Plantation Club on Broadway.


Ethel Waters first recorded for Columbia in 1925, achieving a hit with "Dinah".


In September 1926, Ethel Waters recorded "I'm Coming Virginia", composed by Donald Heywood with lyrics by Will Marion Cook.


In 1933, Ethel Waters appeared in a satirical all-black film, Rufus Jones for President, which featured the child performer Sammy Davis Jr.


Ethel Waters became the first black woman to integrate Broadway's theater district more than a decade after actor Charles Gilpin's critically acclaimed performances in the plays of Eugene O'Neill beginning with The Emperor Jones in 1920.


Ethel Waters moved to Los Angeles to appear in the 1942 film Cairo.


Ethel Waters sang the Academy Award-nominated "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe".


In 1939, Ethel Waters became the first African American to star in her own television show, before the debut of Nat King Cole's in 1956.


The Ethel Waters Show, a variety special, appeared on NBC on June 14,1939.


Ethel Waters was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film Pinky under the direction of Elia Kazan after the first director, John Ford, quit over disagreements with Ethel Waters.

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In 1950, Ethel Waters was the first African-American actress to star in a television series, Beulah, which aired on ABC television from 1950 through 1952.


Ethel Waters guest-starred in 1957 and 1959 on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.


In 1953, she appeared in a Broadway show, At Home With Ethel Waters that opened on September 22,1953 and closed October 10 after 23 performances.


Ethel Waters married Clyde Edwards Matthews in 1929, and they divorced in 1933.


Ethel Waters married Edward Mallory in 1938; they divorced in 1945.


In 1938, Ethel Waters met artist Luigi Lucioni through their mutual friend, Carl Van Vechten.


Ethel Waters bought the finished portrait from Lucioni in 1939 for $500.


Ethel Waters was at the height of her career and the first African American to have a starring role on Broadway.


Ethel Waters was a baptized Catholic and considered herself a member of that religion throughout her life.


Ethel Waters died on September 1,1977, aged 80, from uterine cancer, kidney failure, and other ailments, in Chatsworth, California.


Ethel Waters is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.