Ethel Waters had a long and varied career, and was one of the first true jazz singers to record. Defying racism with her talent and bravery, Waters became a stage and movie star in the 1930s and '40s without leaving the U.S.
Born in Chester, PA, on October 31, 1896, she grew up near Philadelphia and, unlike many of her contemporaries, developed a clear and easily understandable diction. Originally classified as a blues singer (and she could sing the blues almost on the level of a Bessie Smith), Waters' jazz-oriented recordings of 1921-1928 swung before that term was even coined. A star early on at theaters and nightclubs, Waters introduced such songs as "Dinah," "Am I Blue" (in a 1929 movie), and "Stormy Weather."
She made a smooth transition from jazz singer of the 1920s to a pop music star of the '30s, and she was a strong influence on many vocalists including Mildred Bailey, Lee...