Library Features Ethel Waters Exhibit

By   •   January 26, 2009

For nearly 20 years, she warmed hearts and shared the stage with Billy Graham at his Crusades. Starting Feb. 1 and running through March 31, legendary African-American actress, singer and entertainer Ethel Waters will be celebrated at the Billy Graham Library with a special exhibit entitled “Ethel Waters: His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

The exhibit showcases exclusive memorabilia, rare photographs and stirring recordings from her remarkable career. In addition, visitors will learn how God used Billy Graham in the Civil Rights movement.

Two years prior to the Supreme Court decision that banned discrimination based on race, Mr. Graham opposed segregating crowds at his 1952 Crusade in Jackson, Mississippi.

He continued to fight segregation during the Civil Rights movement, preaching, “Jesus was not a white man; he was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world!”

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 the 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 – particularly her trademark song, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

She sang at her first Billy Graham Crusade in 1957 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, where she attended one of the meetings and rededicated herself to Christ. Her final Crusade appearance came in August 1976 in San Diego, Calif.

During her years of serving with Mr. Graham, Ms. Waters starred in “The Heart of a Rebel,” a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association World Wide Pictures film, and was honored by Mr. Graham at a 1972 dinner he held in her honor in Hollywood.

“This exhibit focuses on the life of an important person to Mr. Graham and the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,” said Debra Cordial, director of the Library. “This exhibit was so well-received when it was on display in 2009 that we decided to offer it again. We hope our guests will be encouraged and blessed in seeing how Ms. Waters used her incredible talent and high-profile platform to bring honor and glory to God.”

For more information about The Billy Graham Library, including hours, directions, volunteer opportunities, and an overview video, visit the Library website »

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  1. Michael Hobbs says:

    Ethel Waters is an everlasting influence on my life. And to hear her and see that smile you knew she belived what she sang about and c wanted you to have the same in your life.