If you’ve enjoyed listening to any of the numerous lady singers who have performed “Am I Blue” through the years, then you might be interested to find out that it all started with a very special songbird. She introduced it in 1929 in a film called On With The Show, which was not only one of the earliest ‘soundies’ but was also in color — or what passed for color in those days of experimentation.
Ethel Waters was one of the earliest jazz singers around and was — along with her contemporary Bessie Smith — one of the biggest singing stars in her day.
She was born near Philadelphia before the turn of the last century, and had a difficult childhood that culminated in her marriage at age 13 to an abusive older man. However, she was able to break free and then managed to support herself in various jobs until her love of music began to guide her life.
She worked her way up through black vaudeville and nightclubs, and even spent some time touring with a circus as part of the musical show. Eventually landing in the same club with the better-known Bessie Smith, she found that Bessie didn’t want the competition as a blues singer, so Ethel began leaning toward a different singing style. She sang straight-ahead ballads and pop tunes, and even danced a little, and it was a style that would later make her a star in stage shows and even movies.
She had a long and illustrious career, and by the time she died in 1977 she had become a national treasure. Along the way she introduced a lot of classic songs, including “Stormy Weather,” “Dinah,” and many others, and went through more than her share of ups and downs. I’d encourage readers to explore her life more fully at this Wiki link.
Ethel Waters – “Am I Blue”