Women’s History Month: Ethel Waters

March 8, 2022

Categories: BGEA Ministry

Ethel Waters rededicated her life to Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade in New York in 1957. Afterward, she joined Mr. Graham’s Crusade team as a featured singer.

In honor of Women’s History Month, and on this International Women’s Day, the Billy Graham Library would like to recognize some of the women who supported Billy Graham’s ministry over the years. This week, we take a look at Ethel Waters.

Ethel Waters was born October 31, 1896 as an unwanted child of a 13 year old girl in Chester, Pennsylvania. Ethel had anything but an easy, happy life. She grew up in a destructive environment of neglect and learned to provide for herself by any means she could.

One time, Waters went to a revival in her area, where organizers handed out free food. At one of the meetings, friends persuaded her to go down to the altar. She later recalled that, as she knelt at the altar, she prayed to the Lord and said, “Lord I want to know you.” She realized that she had found something she had been looking for all of her young life — Jesus Christ.

Ethel was well known for singing the song “His Eye is on the Sparrow” at Billy Graham’s Crusades.

Following a long and very successful career of 40 years, singing and acting, earning many awards and praise for her talents, Ethel felt that she had failed the Lord. She experienced a “heaviness” in her heart. After hearing Billy Graham on radio and seeing him on television as well, she decided to attend the 1957 Crusade meetings at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Madison Square Garden, 1957.

At the first meeting Ethel attended, she heard the choir sing “This is My Story,” and later, during Mr. Graham’s preaching, she realized he was answering every question on her mind about her relationship with God. That night, she decided to rededicate her life to the Lord, privately. When Cliff Barrows learned she was in the audience, he asked her if she would be willing to do a solo. She agreed. She then joined the choir and sat anonymously in their midst night after night for the rest of the Crusade. She would eventually come to join the Billy Graham Crusade team and travel with them, singing and sharing her testimony, as Mr. Graham preached the good news of the Gospel.

Ethel Waters and Billy Graham at a Crusade.

Ethel was well known for singing the song “His Eye is on the Sparrow” at Billy Graham’s Crusades. No song was more fitting for a person to sing than this song was for Ethel Waters. In her own words from an interview in 1972, Ethel shared: “I was that sparrow He was watching over all those years.” Ms. Waters served with the Crusade team for almost 20 years and passed away Sept. 1, 1977.

Ethel Waters (1896-1977) began her recording career in 1921 with the Black Swan label and continued with Columbia Records in 1925.

Maybe you’ve had the same deep longing as Ethel Waters. You can have the same peace that Ethel experienced through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Start here.

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