Susannah McCorkle, who wrote “The Mother of Us All,” makes the following recommendations for recordings of Ethel Waters on CD:
“ Ethel Waters on Stage and Screen (1925–1940) (Columbia Collectors’ Series A2792), is a good introduction to Waters for people who like standards. Her vibrant presence and dazzling musicality jump off the disc in her first pop song hits, ‘Dinah’ and ‘Am I Blue?’ Two 1930s revue songs written especially for her, ‘Harlem on My Mind’ and ‘Thief in the Night,’ catch her at her peak as she reveals an acting talent as original and spontaneous as her singing. The Dutch import Ethel Waters 1929–1939 (Timeless Records) duplicates five songs from the Columbia reissue but offers seventeen more by such greats as Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh, Irving Berlin, and Hoagy Carmichael, with an impressive roster of jazz musicians (Dorsey brothers, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Duke Ellington) and excellent liner notes and photographs. Highlights are ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,’ ‘Come Up and See Me Sometime,’ and ‘I Ain’t Gonna Sin No More.’
“A French compilation, Ethel Waters 1926–29 (Classics Records), is breathtaking, even shocking, in its scope of material: from the stirring a cappella hymn ‘He Brought Joy to My Soul’ to the amazingly dirty ‘My Handy Man,’ both sung with equal fervor. This twenty-four-track collection, largely of ‘hot’ (rhythm) songs, is the least refined and most fun of all available Waters CDs. The accompaniment is mostly by solo piano, and the four tracks with Harlem stride pianist James P. Johnson, a powerhouse player who knew just when to be sensitive and subtle, are exquisite.”
Susannah McCorkle’s own most recent recording, From Bessie to Brazil (Concord Records), includes one Ethel Waters song, “Thief in the Night.” Ethel Waters’s lively autobiography, His Eye Is on the Sparrow , has been reissued in soft cover by Da Capo Press.
Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President (Addison-Wesley), is the subject of Geoffrey Ward’s column in this issue, and its author, Harold Holzer, wrote “Is This the First Photograph of Abraham Lincoln?”—also in this issue.