Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Crafting a Career: Ethel Waters and Cabin in the Sky

Ethel Waters (1896-1977) was a path-breaking African American entertainer whose career spanned nearly sixty years, moving from vaudeville to Hollywood. This thesis addresses the 1943 film Cabin in the Sky as a pivotal moment in Waters's dramatic output, with her playing a role that served as culmination of the themes of her earlier career and as the transition to a new type of character. Beginning before Cabin, and moving through the end of her career, this analysis draws from biographical accounts in combination with close readings of the film to trace four main characteristics that govern her career and public persona: her assertion of creative control, her personal conflicts with female co-stars, her public expressions of religious piety, and her complex experiences with the racial politics of her era. Her oft-overlooked portrayal in Cabin offers insight into the tensions and contradictions that shaped her career and legacy.