Ethel Waters • Stormy Weather

She was the most versatile singer to emerge from the classic blues movement of the early 1920s. Ethel Waters (1896-1977), who had a very rough childhood and was first married when she was 13, debuted on records in 1921 and was originally thought of as primarily a blues singer. However she showed early on that she could also sing jazz tunes and pop songs. Her articulation was flawless (one could always understand the words that she was singing) and Waters could hold her own with the top jazz artists of the 1920s.

The end of the classic blues craze did not affect her career because she had already moved into jazz and, with the onset of the Depression, she showed that she was also a top-notch interpreter of ballads. An actress from an early age, Waters had successes on Broadway, in movies, on radio and even television which was certainly quite rare to say the least for an African-American performer during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. In the 1929 film On With The Show (during which she introduced “Am I Blue”), Waters was even treated onscreen on an equal level by the white performers. In 1939 she was the first African-American to have her own television show and she starred in both the Broadway production of Cabin In The Sky and the 1943 movie.

Red Wood Coast

The three-CD set put out by Acrobat, Stormy Weather, is subtitled “all the hits and more 1921-47.” The 70 selections, all but one from 1921-40, include all of Waters’ best-selling records plus a sampling of her other early sessions. It starts with “Down Home Blues” from her second recording date and includes such gems as “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Dinah” (the debut version), “I’ve Found A New Baby,” “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night,” “Maybe Not At All” (where she does a very close imitation of Bessie Smith), “Sugar,” “Guess Who’s In Town,” “Am I Blue,” “Waiting At the End Of the Road,” “Heat Wave,” “Porgy,” “Stormy Weather” (which she introduced), “Cabin In The Sky,” and 1947’s “Careless Love.” Among her sidemen are pianists James P. Johnson, Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller, Pearl Wright, and Maceo Pinkard, cornetists Joe Smith and Tommy Ladnier, trombonists Tommy Dorsey and Jack Teagarden, clarinetists Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, altoist Benny Carter, and the full Duke Ellington Orchestra.

While “Sweet Man,” “Do What You Did Last Night” and “Taking A Chance On Love” are among the missing, Stormy Weather is a very well-conceived set that contains most of the recorded highpoints from Ethel Waters’ rather remarkable career.

Ethel Waters • Stormy Weather
Acrobat ACTRCD 9132

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Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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