Ethel Waters, First Black Actress to Star in a TV Sitcom “The Beulah Show”

0 Posted by - September 5, 2018 - Black First, BLACK WOMEN, LATEST POSTS

was an jazz, blues, actress and gospel vocalists. She was the second African-American woman after Hattie McDaniel, to be nominated for an Academy Award, and the first to be nominated for an Emmy Award in 1962. Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on October 31, 1896, as the result of rape of her teenaged mother. Her mother is believed to have been as young as 13 at the time.


Waters grew up in the slums of Philadelphia, and surrounding cities. She stayed in the streets and never stayed in one place more than a couple of weeks. It has been documented that she never really had a childhood, no one ever cuddled, or tried to understand or help her through difficult times.  However, that didn’t stop Waters from going on to becoming one of the greatest singers and dancers of her time. She first got her start performing at church functions, and was highly known for her “hip shimmy shake.”  Waters was often called “Sweet Mama Stringbean” because she stood 5’9’’ and was slim.


She began performing in nightclubs in the late 1920s and later became one of the most celebrated and well-paid entertainers in the industry. She was first to introduce “Stormy Weather” at the Cotton Club, which had been composed for her by Harold Arlen.  Waters recorded with Swam label from 1921 through 1923. When Paramount purchased Black Swan she remained with them until 1925 when she began recording with Columbia Records. She produced many popular songs with them such as “Heebie Jeebies”, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and many others. She had a big role in the successful Irving Berlin Broadway musical revue “As Thousands Cheer” in 1933, where she was the first black woman in a white show.

Walters was also the first African-American actress to star in a TV sitcom,  the show moved from radio to ABC TV on October 3, 1950, Waters starred for the first season. Hattie McDaniel, star of radio’s Beulah, joined the cast around September of 1951 but only filmed six episodes. Later in years Waters toured with Billy Graham on his crusades. She died in 1977 at the age of 80.



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