Happy 120th Birthday, Ethel Waters!

Singer and actress Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, 120 years ago today. Here are 10 EW Did-You-Knows:

  • Ethel’s mother was a teenage rape victim, and hers was a difficult childhood. She was raised in poverty and she never lived anywhere more than 15 months. “I never was a child,” she would say later. “I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.”
  • Waters married at 13, but the man she married abused her and she left him to become a maid at a hotel in Philadelphia. When she was 17, she sang two songs at a costume party at a nightclub and was such a hit that she was offered work performing at the Lincoln Theatre in Baltimore.
  • That engagement launched Waters’ career on the black vaudeville circuit. In Atlanta, she found herself working at the same club as blues legend Bessie Smith, who insisted that Waters not perform the same kind of music she was, so during their time on the same bill, Smith sang the blues and Waters stuck to popular songs.
  • In 1919, Waters made her way to Harlem, debuting at a black club there called Edmond’s Cellar.
  • In 1921, Waters became the fifth black woman to make a record on the small Cardinal label. Before long, she moved up to Black Swan Records, where she recorded with Fletcher Henderson. In 1925, she signed with Columbia records, for whom she recorded the hit song, Dinah (in 1998, that recording was given the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, one of three such awards Waters’ 1920s recordings received).
  • As her star continued to rise, Waters began to play “white” vaudevile on the Keith Circuit, which paid more and increased her fame.
  • In 1929, Waters introduced the Harry Akst song, Am I Blue? It was a huge hit for her and became her signature song.
  • In the early 1930s, Waters starred at the Cotton Club and appeared in Irving Berlin’s hit musical revue As Thousands Cheer; she was the first black woman to appear in an otherwise all-white show.
  • In 1933, Waters was, thanks to her continuing nightclub work, her stage success and her national radio program, the highest paid performer on Broadway.
  • In the 1940s, Waters’ career was on the wane and she experienced legal and health problems. In 1951, she wrote her autobiography, His Eye Is on the Sparrow with Charles Samuels. A later memoir, To Me, It’s Wonderful, established her birth year as 1896; she’d been lying about her age for some time in order to get a group insurance policy.
  • In her later years, Waters began to focus on gospel music and spirituals, often touring with evangelist Billy Graham. In 1983, she was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Happy birthday, Ethel Waters, wherever you may be!

Ethel Waters

Pitch perfect: radios

As the Pitch Perfect series continues, we today feature a collection of 1949 advertising slogans that were used to market radios, phonographs, televisions, and even radio and television broadcasting stations.

ABC of radio satisfaction, The (Ray-O-Vac batteries), French Battery Co.
Air unlox to Magnavox (Magnavox Co.), Oakland, Calif.
Air-Way’s best by any test (Air-Way Electric Appliance Co.).
All phonographs in one (Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co.).
All that is best in radio (Eagle Radio Co.), Newark, N. J.
Alone in tone (Magnavox), Receiving sets.
Always a year ahead (Zenith radio).
Always good company (Radio Industries Corp.).
America’s most copied radio (Zenith).
America’s smart set (Admiral), Radio-phonograph.
And when you listen you’ll buy this Westinghouse (radio).
Arvin sets the pace, lead with Arvin (radio), Noblitt-Sparks.
As easy as listening (Cortinaphone), Cortina Academy of Languages (phonographs).
At the right of your dial (Station WKW), St. Louis.

Beautiful beyond belief in tone and styling (Bendix Radio Division).
Behind the panels of better built sets (General Radio Corp.).
Believe your own ears (G. E. Radio).
Best by test for high fidelity (phonograph needles).
Best in radio, The (American Bosch Co.).
Best in radio is better with a Bendix, The.
Better, costs less (Crosley Radio Corp.).
Better results with less effort (Independent Radio Supply Co.).
Blue tube with the life-like tone, The (Arcturus Radio Tube Co.).
Bring ’em in dead, take ’em out alive (The Radio Hospital), Youngstown, Ohio.
Build that set on Kelbrakets (Kelleradio, Inc.), San Francisco.
Built like a fine watch (Lombardi Radio Mfg. Co.), Derby, Conn.
Built like a violin (Teletone radio speakers).

Cheney tone is nature’s own, The (Cheney Talking Machine Co.).
Choice of noted music critics, The (All-American Radio Corp.).
Clear as a bell (Sonora Phonograph Sales Co., Inc.).
Clear to the ear (Magnavox Co.).
Comparison proves its superiority (Hallock & Watson Radio Corp.).
Costs more, but does more (Zenith Radio Corp.).
Covers the whole range (Sander loud speaker), Farrang Mfg. Co.

Dependable long life (radio tubes), Ken-Rad Corp.
Depend on Farnsworth for fidelity (radio).
Dial of pleasure (North electric radio).
Distance without distortion (Perryman Electric Co.).

Electroneering is our business (Rauland), Radio—radar.
Emblem of worth in radio, The (Kodel Radio Corp.).
Entertaining New York and New Jersey 24 hours a day (Station WNEW).
Every one a good one (Davidson Radio Corp.).
Everything for the radio man (Midwest Radio Co.).
Everything in music (radio), Grunewald’s.
Excellence in electronics (Raytheon), Tubes.
Expanded coverage for E-X-P-A-N-D-I-N-G mid-America (Station KCMO).
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