The Enduring Legacy Of Ethel Waters The First African American To Star In Their Own Television Program

Pioneering Entertainer And Civil Rights Icon

Ethel Waters was a true trailblazer and pioneer in the entertainment industry. She broke racial barriers and paved the way for future generations of Black performers.

In 1939, Waters made history as the first African American to star in her own television show, “The Ethel Waters Show” on NBC. This groundbreaking variety special aired on June 14, 1939, a remarkable achievement during an era of deeply entrenched racial segregation and discrimination.

“I never was a child. I never was cuddled, liked, or understood by my family.” – Ethel Waters

Overcoming Tremendous Adversity

Waters’ path to stardom was marked by tremendous adversity and hardship. Born in 1896 in Chester, Pennsylvania, she was the result of her teenage mother’s rape.

Raised in abject poverty by her grandmother, Waters began working as a maid at age 13 after an abusive marriage ended.

However, her raw talent and determination propelled her to success on the vaudeville circuit and as a blues singer in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.

Groundbreaking Performer And Acclaimed Actress

Beyond her pioneering television role, Waters was a groundbreaking performer in film, theater, and music. She became the second African American nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the 1949 film “Pinky.”

Waters was also the first Black woman nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her performance in a 1962 episode of “Route 66.” Her iconic songs like “Stormy Weather,” “Am I Blue?,” and “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” cemented her legacy as a legendary vocalist.

Inspiring Strength And Resilience

Despite facing pervasive racism and discrimination throughout her career, Waters remained resilient and inspiring.

Her 1951 autobiography, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” chronicled her remarkable journey from poverty to stardom. Waters’ life and achievements continue to inspire generations, symbolizing the strength and perseverance of the African American spirit.