Innovative jazz vocalist and actress Ethel Waters (1896-1977) was born on this day in Chester, Pennsylvania.
"I never felt I belong," she said, "I just ran wild." Despite a troubled childhood marked with of poverty, she sang in the church choir and made music her passion.
"Only those who have been hurt deeply can understand what pain is, or humiliation," she said. "Only those who are being burned know what fire is like."
With determination, Waters joined the black vaudeville and nightclub circuits. Billed as "Sweet Mama Stringbean," she made her recording debut in 1921 and immediately charmed audiences with her unique low and sweet voice.
The great composer Harold Arlen wrote Stormy Weather for her. Always one for flair, she called singing the show-stopper at Harlem's Cotton Club "a turning point" and said, "I found release in singing it... I was telling the things I couldn't frame in words. I was singing the story of my misery and confusion."
A star of theater and film, Waters earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the ailing grandmother in Pinky (1949). A born-again Christian, in later years Waters sang with the Billy Graham Crusade and inspired many with the honesty of her voice.
"I just let singing out the way it comes to me. Once the orchestra gets used to letting themselves go, everything works out fine. The song is really the main thing, the song and the way you sing it," Waters said.
Celebrate the gifts!