Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ethel Waters

 Artist: Ethel Waters
LP: 7" single
Song: "Cabin In the Sky" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Dinah" 
[ listen ]

Yesterday while riding the bus home from work I was reading Pauline Kael's review of THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (1952), in which she wrote, "Miss Waters is not much less than magnificent and is certainly a feast for the camera." Kael goes on to say that the film includes Ethel Waters' best performance. Later that same evening as my new special friend, Martin, and I were walking on Broadway to get "updated Chinese food" at Zhu Dang on Capitol Hill (we didn't end up eating there; I tend not to support places that think it's low-class to use decimal points on their menu.) (We ate non-updated food at Jade Garden in Chinatown instead—highly recommended!) Anyway, as we were walking along Broadway we ducked into Spin Cycle Records so I could flip through their singles. Along with a couple of Joan Jett 45s I didn't think I already had (but it turns out I did), I found this terrific early '50s 4-track 7" by Ethel Waters, who I had been reading about just hours earlier on the bus—remember? What a weird coincidence

Born in Pennsylvania in 1896, Ethel Waters managed to eke out a meager existence in Philadelphia until an influential someone heard her singing at a Halloween party on her 17th birthday. They were so impressed they offered her a regular spot at the Lincoln Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, and the career of one of the very first female blues and jazz singers had begun. I first laid eyes on Ms. Waters just after I turned 15 in the summer of 1984; I was on a family Shaklee-sponsored cruise, sailing from Montreal to New York City. One afternoon I stumbled into a screening of Vincente Minnelli's CABIN IN THE SKY (1943), which was showing in the little movie theater on board. It totally blew me away (no pun intended)—I didn't actually even know until several decades later what strange movie I'd watched on that ship that day. You can see Ethel Waters in action at the link below, and go here and here to read more about this incredible, wonderful woman.

Ethel Waters on YouTube:
[ "Honey In the Honeycomb" from Cabin In the Sky

[ Ethel Waters: October 31, 1896 — September 1, 1977 ]

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