Lucas Weismann

The Blues Dance Project – Unit 1 – Week 3 – Featured Artists: Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Ruth Brown

Three women who had a huge impact on the world of Jazz, Blues and R&B.  Defenitely worth a listen!

Ethel Waters

Ethel waters started her career in 1920 as a Blues singer- she was, in fact, the 5th woman to record a blues album.  In her career, she also performed on Broadway, sang Jazz, blues, pop and show tunes.

Ethel was born in Chester, PA as the result of the rape of her mother by a mixed-race acquaintance- her mother was just a teenaged girl at the time.  As a result she never felt loved by her family and was never cuddled, loved or understood by her family.

She married at 13, though left him because he proved abusive.  She sang on stage for the first time at a costume ball at age 17 and was offered the unbelievable pay of $10/week to perform in Maryland.  Though, her managers cheated her out of this as well.

She moved to Harlem in 1919, just in time for the Harlem Renaissance, a period of great cultural growth and importance in the 1920s.

She achieved her first hit “Dinah” in 1925.  She was considered a Blues singer in the 1920s, though her style was closer to a vaudeville style of Mamie Smith, Viola McCoy and Lucille Hegamin.  She toured all over the country and even performed with Duke Ellington at one point.

in 1933, she made an all-black satire called “Rufus For President” which featured then child-performer Sammy Davis, Jr..

In the 40s she worked with Fletcher Henderson.  She grew embittered with age and eventually lost most of what she had in a Robbery of her home.

Her Top Hits Included:

  • Stormy Weather
  • Am I Blue
  • Dinah
  • His Eye is On the Sparrow
  • I’ve Found a New Baby

Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter also began her career in the 1920s and was contemporary with Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.  She was successful as a writer and recording artist in  both Blues and Jazz, though she retired to become a nurse in the 1950s.

She was born in Memphis, TN and ran away from home in her teens to become a musician.  She took jobs cleaning and peeling potatoes, determined to get a singing job.  She appeard on stage in musicals in both London and New York.

For awhile she toured with Bessie Smith, but was forced to sing ballads and pop tunes, because Ms. Smith didn’t want the competition of another Blues singer on stage.

At the end of 11 years of retirement (from singing, she was working as a nurse): Alberta was persuaded to record again.  Though she was planning on devoting her live to this afterward, the hospital forced her to retire in 1977 and she went back to singing because the had nothing better to do and had never felt better.

This lasted for another six years, during which time she toured Europe and South America and enjoyed renewed popularity.

Her Most Famous Songs Include:

  • Handy Man
  • My handy Man Ain’t Handy No More
  • Sweet Georgia Brown
  • Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown was a hugely sucessful recording artist.  So much in fact that some of the things said about her were “in the South the name Ruth Brown is better known than Coca Cola”, and Atlantic Records was nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built.”

Ruth married and ran away with Jimmy Brown as a young woman, and before too long in her career, Cab Calloway’s sister became her manager.  Most of her work was done between 1949 and the 1960s, where she helped R&B to come into it’s own with hits like “Mama, He treats your daughter Mean” and “I know”.

She recorded well into the 2000s and fought for musician’s rights.  She even sued Atlantic records to get royalties she hadn’t been paid (and won).  She also had a role in the 1985 satire “Hairspray” (one that was reprised by John Travolta in the film version).

She has influenced a ton of artists that came after her, most notably Bonnie Raitt.

Ruth Brown’s most influential recordings include:

  • Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean
  • Mambo Baby
  • Nobody’s Business If I Do
  • Brown Sugar
  • Fine Brown Frame

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