As a singer, dancer, and dramatic actress, Ethel Waters used her musical creativity and dramatic expression to achieve prominence and win critical acclaim on the stage and in film. Billed as "Baby Star," Waters gave her first performance at the age of five in a children's program in a Philadelphia church.
She began her professional career performing vaudeville and blues and is believed to have performed in the same vaudeville circuit as blues greats "Ma" Rainey and Bessie Smith. She performed song-and-dance routines as "Sweet Mama Stringbean," a stage name given to her because she was tall and thin. Waters is credited with numerous firsts: first woman to perform on stage in St. Louis Blues; first African American singer to appear with band leader Benny Goodman; first African American woman to perform in an all-white cast on Broadway; first African American woman to perform the leading role in a dramatic play; and one of the first African American entertainers to perform on radio.
"The Mother of Modern Popular Singing," Ethel Waters spent the last fifteen years of her life singing at the Billy Graham crusades, during which time she made famous the song His Eye Is on the Sparrow.