Saturday 27 February 2010

The LGBT History Series (27) - Ethel Waters

Ethel Waters (1896-1977) was an actress and Blues singer, starting in Pennsylvania and progressing to Broadway and New York clubs. Born into astounding deprivation as the result of her 12-year old mother's rape, Waters herself was forced into marriage at 12 and divorce at 14. In her autobiography she describes herself as 'wild as a little girl, I was bad, always the leader of a streetgang in stealing and general hell-raising.'

Her first public singing performance was behind a halloween mask in the early twentieth century, but soon she was making a name and money for herself, singing professionally in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

She won an Academy Award for her supporting role in Pinky in 1949, and was recognised as the Best Actress by New York Drama Critic's Circle in 1950.

Film Screenshot, Permission: Public Domain because Copyright not renewed.
Note: Image shows Ethel Waters singing with Count Basie in
Stage Door Canteen

Waters was not open about her sexual affairs with other women, other performers the graced the same stages included Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Alberta Hunter; all famously public about their homosexual affairs.
Waters' one public affair was with a dancer named Ethel Williams, with whom she flirted with on stage, and had notorious lovers spats with.

In the later twentieth-century, Ethel Waters toned down her performances and re-invented herself as an evangelical christian performer.