Sunday, February 22, 2015

Famous Black Firsts: Performer Ethel Waters

Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on October 31st 1896. Some say that she was actually born in 1900. Her mother, Louise Anderson, was around 13 when she gave birth to Ethel after being raped by a man named John Waters that knew the family. Ethel was raised in poor neighborhoods and moved frequently. When talking about her childhood she said “I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.” She was about 5 foot 9 ½ as a teenager which is worth noting because that is pretty tall for a chick period let alone back then. She got married when she was 13 years old but left her husband after abuse and worked as a maid. At 17 she attended a costume party and after being asked to sing wowed everyone to the point she was offered professional work at the Lincoln Theater located in Baltimore. 

She later toured the vaudeville circuit and despite being this successful at such a young age she fell on hard times and began traveling with a carnival in freight cars. By 1919 she moved to Harlem and became a famous performer during the Harlem Renaissance. In 1949 she was nominated for an Academy Award for the movie Pinky making her the second Black after Hattie McDaniel to do such. In 1950 she starred in the television series Beulah but left the show after disagreeing with the portrayal of Blacks on the series. This show was the very first series to star a Black person. Oddly enough Hattie eventually replaced her.

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