Ethel Waters: selected recordings, 1921-1934


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A selection of Ethel Waters biographies:

An excerpt from the biography at the site Drop Me Off in Harlem:

Known as “Sweet Mama Stringbean” for her slender figure, Ethel Waters could sing the blues beyond compare. Her soft, refined voice, theatrical style, and signature shimmy captivated black and white audiences alike.

Waters grew up in the chaotic misery of a Philadelphia slum. “No one raised me,” she recalled. “I just ran wild.” Waters gladly put it all behind her to tour on the vaudeville circuit. She ended up in New York City, performing on the stages of both the Lincoln and Lafayette Theatres.

In 1919 she became one of the first black artists hired by Black Swan Records.* The commercial success of two 1921 recordings—”Down Home Blues” and “Oh, Daddy”—landed Waters a touring gig with Fletcher Henderson and the Black Swan Troubadours.

* See the article “The Rise and Fall of Black Swan Records,” by Jitu K. Weusi, at


Oh, Daddy (William “Bill” Russell, Ed Herbert) – 1921


Brown Baby (Henry – Grant) – 1923


Tell ‘Em ‘Bout Me (When You Reach Tennessee) – written by Sidney Easton – recorded 25 March 1924


Sweet Georgia Brown (m. Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard, w. Kenneth Casey)

Ethel Waters and Her Ebony Four — recorded on 13 May 1925; issued on the 78 rpm single Columbia 379D, c/w “No One Can Love Me (Like the Way You Do)”


Dinah (Akst, Lewis, Young) — recorded on 20 October 1925; issued on the 78 rpm single Columbia 487-D, as the B-side of “Sweet Man”


Sweet Man (Maceo Pinkard, Roy Turk) – recorded on 20 October 1925; issued on the 78 rpm single Columbia 487-D, b/w “Dinah”


I’ve Found a New Baby (m. Spencer Williams, w. Jack Palmer) — recorded on 22 January 1926 and issued on the single Columbia 561-D, b/w “Tell ‘Em About Me”  — indicates that the song was first recorded by the Clarence Williams Blue Five. However, the single referred to, OKeh 8286 (which features “Pile of Logs and Stone” as the A-side) was recorded on the same date as the Ethel Waters side.


Lonesome Swallow ( J.C. Johnson, Andy Razaf ) – 1928


Ethel Waters and John Bubbles perform “Birmingham Bertha” in On With the Show (1929)

From Wikipedia:

On with the Show! (1929) is historically important in cinema history as the first modern sound film photographed entirely in Technicolor. To explain this breakthrough, this film was promoted in 1929 terms as a 100% ‘talkie’, meaning that it had synchronized speech. Prior to this, Tiffany had released The Cavalier (1928), which was technically the first feature length sound completely in Technicolor, but only had music and sound effects with silent title cards, and would be regarded as a silent film by viewers today.

Am I Blue? (m. Harry Akst, w. Grant Clarke) — in On with the Show!


(below) single

on the 1929 single Columbia 1837-D


Birmingham Bertha (m. Harry Akst, w. Grant Clarke) — performed by Ethel Waters in On With the Show, with dancing by John William Sublett (John Bubbles)


(below) 1929 recording, with slide show


I Got Rhythm (m. George Gershwin, w. Ira Gershwin) — 1931


Long before Obama…there was Sammy Davis, Jr., as “Rufus Jones,” running for President

In 1933 Waters reprised Am I Blue in the film Rufus Jones for President. Starring as Rufus is seven year old Sammy Davis, Jr. In the following video he introduces the song with the question, “What’s the matter mammy, is you blue? The second song is Underneath a Harlem Moon (Mack Gordon, Harry Revel)


Career breakthrough —  Stormy Weather

While she had already achieved nightclub and recording success by the mid twenties following the big hit Dinah and sang in some of the earliest “talking pictures” made by Hollywood it was her subtle performance of  Arlen and Koehler’s Stormy Weather at the Cotton Club in 1933 that made her a star and the talk of the town. Irving Berlin caught a performance and signed her up for his revue As Thousands Cheer. Opening September 30, 1933, the show ran to 400 performances, a rarity in the midst of the Depression. Waters received rave reviews for her performances of the Berlin songs Heat Wave and Supper Time. Engagements in other successful Broadway productions followed: At Home Abroad, Mamba ’s Daughters, Cabin in the Sky, and Member of the Wedding.

Stormy Weather (m. Harold Arlen, w. Ted Koehler) Ethel Waters introduced this song at The Cotton Club in Harlem. Her recording in that year was given a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1973, as were her recordings of Dinah (1925) and Am I Blue? (1929)


Heat Wave (Irving Berlin) — 1933


Miss Otis Regrets (Cole Porter) – 1934


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Francy
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 14:45:57

    I am looking for sheet music for her song My Handy Man. Please let me know where I can find. I need music, notes and chords

    Thank you so much.



    • doc
      Oct 03, 2011 @ 20:29:01

      Hi, Francy. I’ll see what I can come up with. The lyrics are easily found, but thus far I haven’t found the sheet music. However, in a forum at the site, a user (tstone) responds to a request for a chord chart with the handwritten document seen below. He says,

      I couldn’t find a chart for it, but it’s pretty straightforward circle-of-fifths stuff. James P. Johnson ornaments the heck out of the accompaniment, but this is basically what’s going on harmonically.



  2. Leonard Spurling
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 12:23:29

    Still love you Ethel. You are gone but never forgotten!



  3. wqnawacko
    Apr 03, 2015 @ 17:11:04

    Hi – I’m trying to find the exact date when “Stormy Weather” went to #1. Any help would be appreciated.

    Dave H



    • doc
      Apr 03, 2015 @ 23:36:02

      Despite claims to the contrary (Jazz Standards,,, for example) “Stormy Weather” was not a #1 Billboard hit in 1933 — Jazz Standards and actually claim two recordings went #1 that year. There were no Billboard charts in 1933, nor any US national charts that ranked recorded singles according to popularity that I’m aware of until 1940. All of the aforementioned sites are relying upon fictitious charts created by Joel Whitburn for this and much other misinformation.

      I’m not aware of any recordings of “Stormy Weather” which charted #1 on any chart.



  4. DPJ
    Nov 23, 2015 @ 09:25:25

    Been looking for guitar or ukulele chords sheet music for “No Man’s Mama” (1925) sung by Ethel Waters, and more recently by Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops). I’ve only found an automated version produced by the Chordify on-line application – but didn’t find this suitable. Any help in finding a chord music sheet for this song would be much appreciated



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