Ethel Waters said this about singing “Stormy Weather”…
“I found a release in singing it each evening. When I got out there on the middle of the Cotton Club floor, I was telling the things I couldn’t frame in words. I was singing the story of my misery and confusion, of the misunderstandings in my life I couldn’t straighten out, the story of the wrongs and outrages done to me by people I had loved and trusted. … I sang ‘Stormy Weather’ from the depths of the private hell in which I was being crushed and suffocated.”
Ethel Waters made her name in the 1930’s in the Cotton Club in the Harlem District of New York City. The house band was led by Duke Ellington, a man who would later make his place as one of the all time greats of jazz. Ethel had a voice that could sound as professional as the most famous pop singers. But more than that, there was a quality to her that reeled the listener in, and made them feel that her song was their song.
Thirty years before the civil rights movement Ethel Waters broke barriers of color and style just by sharing her feelings. Her charismatic personality appealed to people of every color, and as her career progressed she became the highest paid woman artist of her time. She was offered movie roles and the way she played them changed the way that the public looked at African-American characters in films. Effecting the mindset of the public to include common ground between the races.
This KEXP Documentary series “Blues for Hard Times” is part of a class of the same name taught by University of Washington music history professor Larry Starr. This Wednesday evening course is open to the public and the first class starts 3/31. Sign up at lectures.org.
KEXP Documentaries are produced and written by Michele Myers. Assistants are John Felthous and Jentery Sayers. Executive Producer is Kevin Cole. All our documentaries are made possible by a grant from the American Music Partnership of Seattle. You can listen to all the series: Punk Evolution, The Heart of Soul, Pop Goes Electronic and more here.