Ethel Waters Through the Years

By   •   February 16, 2009   •   Topics: , ,

For those familiar with Billy Graham Crusades, Ethel Waters is known for the moment she stepped out of the choir and sang “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” This is the song that would become her trademark as she performed it for the last 20 years of her life.

Showcasing exclusive memorabilia, The Ethel Waters Exhibit also features rare photographs and stirring recordings from her remarkable career.

Born to a 13-year-old single mother in Chester, Pa., Waters (1896-1977) began her recording career in 1921 with the Black Swan label and continued with Columbia Records in 1925.

Through the next decade, she recorded many jazz hits such as, “Am I Blue?,” “Memories of You,” “Cabin in the Sky,” “Stormy Weather,” “Heat Wave,” “Dinah” and “Summertime.”

Waters’ Broadway resume includes key performances in At Home Abroad, Mamba’s Daughters, Cabin in the Sky and The Member of the Wedding. She went on to reprise her roles in the film versions of the latter two Broadway shows and obtain other film credits as well.

The first African-American to receive equal billing on Broadway and second black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award, Waters’ most significant accomplishment came in her later years, sharing her faith with others through music.

“So many people ask about her when they come through the Library,” said Diane Wise, Promotions Manager for the Billy Graham Library. “She was a talented African-American woman who won awards and blazed trails on the Broadway stage and in movies.”

Wise continues, “But most importantly, she chose to use her gifts to serve God, once she decided to live her life for Him. Through her years singing at the Billy Graham Crusades, she touched millions of hearts with her voice and her indomitable spirit. Her sincere and heartfelt message of God’s grace transcended her tough childhood and rise to stardom, and she allowed God to use her until He called her home.”