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Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters Hardcover – February 8, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this powerful biography, Bogle recovers the rich fullness of singer Ethel Waters's life (1896–1977). In vivid though often exhausting detail, Bogle traces Waters's rise from the poverty of her surroundings in Chester, Pa., through her early musical successes in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s to her film and Broadway career and her later religious conversion as her health declined. Waters started singing very early, and worked the clubs and chitlin' circuit with ribald and sexy songs; she soon made her name as both black and white audiences flocked to hear her sing songs such as "Am I Blue?," "Stormy Weather," and "Shake That Thing" in Harlem clubs. As Bogle notes, Waters's records helped to create a new record-buying public, and she ushered in a style of popular singing that later singers like Diana Ross would try to imitate. Bogle chronicles her intimate relationships with both men and women as well as her stormy relationships with other artists, like Josephine Baker and Lena Horne. Bogle's thorough and unflinchingly honest look at Waters's brilliant and flawed life will undoubtedly be the definitive biography of this great woman. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Waters� career spanned seven decades, from vaudeville to Harlem nightclubs, from Broadway to Hollywood. Bogle, author of several biographies of black entertainers, including the best-selling Dorothy Dandridge (1997), offers a penetrating look at a woman of massive talent and determination. Waters grew up mostly in Chester, Pennsylvania, adopting a wandering life that suited her desire to flee her difficult past, poverty, hard family life, and early, failed marriage. In the early 1920s, she was among the first black performers in Harlem whom white patrons came to see. She began recording in the 1920s and �30s and moved from blues to pop; among her hits were �Stormy Weather� and �Heat Wave.� Her talent for singing, dancing, and acting led her to cross paths with Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Count Basie, Josephine Baker, Elia Kazan, Darryl F. Zanuck, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, and others. Her best-known roles were in the film The Member of the Wedding and the play Mamba�s Daughters.Bogle chronicles her career ups and downs and her tempestuous relationships with a series of husbands and lovers, male and female, as she struggled with racism and sexism and her own complex personality as a woman known to be both profane and pious. --Vanessa Bush
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition / First Printing edition (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061241733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061241734
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donald Bogle is the author of the groundbreaking Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, a classic study of Black movie images; as well as the acclaimed biography Dorothy Dandridge; the bestselling Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood; and Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. Mr. Bogle's newly updated Brown Sugar: Over 100 Years of America's Black Female Superstars has been adapted for a highly successful four-part documentary series for PBS. He teaches at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mr P on February 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Donald Bogle, who should be crowned the King of African American Cinema/Theater Historians, has written another mammoth, exhaustive, fascinating but much too long tome. The subject this time is the legendary but forgotten singer and actress Ethel Waters. In the 1920s she was a GIANT among jazz singers, and helped to create the sound of popular jazz singing. She influenced almost everybody, inlcuding Ella, Billie and Lena, who described her as "the mother of us all." When Ethel expanded her repertoire in the 1930s to include popular songs, she influenced the young Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra (who sent her a telegram on her 80th birthday in 1976, that's how much Sinatra revered her). "Stormy Weather" was written fo Ethel (NOT Lena). In the 1940s Ethel became a Hollywood star. In the early 1950s she triumphed as a dramatic actress on Broadway. Then America - Black AND White - turned its back on her. Unemployed, unemployable and rejected, she turned to Jesus (and Billy Graham's Crusades) and preached the word of God till the day she died (in 1977). I'm an aetheist, but I'm thankful somebody in America, in this case Billy Graham's devotees, embraced her, loved her and gave her support when she most needed it.

Bogle's book is for the most part a well-researched, insightful and engaging biography. Mr Bogle clearly loves his subject but it is a pity it is padded out with unecessary 'background' information which sometimes wore this reader down. Also his lack of generosity to other writers on Ethel Waters has excluded any mention of her previous biographer, the London-based Stephen Bourne, whose modest, but informative biography, "Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather", was published by Scarecrow Press in 2007.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Montgomery on February 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I often wish Amazon had a multi-tiered rating system. For research, I'd give Heat Wave a solid 5 stars, for readability I'd give it 3. Heat Wave runs about 500 pages but the first 100 or so the author takes too many side roads. If a reader is completely unfamiliar with the time period in which Ethel started her career, the background might be useful. For me, it seemed like a continual digression. I know (for example) who Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith are. Their interaction with Ethel Waters is what I want to know, their backgrounds I don't. It's difficult to set that aside, as many readers wouldn't approach a book about Ethel Waters without some grounding in the subject already. While Ethel deserves greater renown than she currently enjoys, she's not the entry point for most students of this time period. There's a lot of context being laid, and I want to get on to the story.

Once Bogle feels he's laid enough background he streamlines his prose a bit (although never fully) and delivers a comprehensive and nuanced portrait of Ethel's life. Ethel Waters is delivered to the reader with her personality intact. There is no whitewashing or looking away from her flaws, nor is there undue appreciation for her unquestionable talent. This is a clear eyed but very respectful assessment of Ethel as a person and a performer. Where possible, the author makes excellent use of Waters' own words, and those of her contemporaries. (To misquote Ossie Davis from the book; she was a great performer and a mean woman.) While not a casual read, it could be a definitive one. Donald Bogle clearly understands Ethel Waters as much as he appreciates her, his look at this too often forgotten star is worth the time.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By crystal on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am the great niece of Ethel Waters although I'm am very excited about his book and enjoy it, there are somethings I must
point out. I don't recall anyone in my family being interviewed . Secondly there is a reference to that fact that Ethel Waters was
born from a teenage mother who was raped, which i assume was taken from her auto-biography. My grandfather, who was Ethel's
older brother assured us that his mother was not a teenager when she was born and was not raped. This fact split the family apart.
This was written in her bio merely to sell books...Crystal Waters
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on June 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How far is too far might be the underlying theme of Bogle's outstanding life of Ethel Waters, and he plays out this theme with variations in nearly every chapter. How far did racist American society have to push the gifted young Ethel Waters before she blossomed into a fully-formed "race woman" (WWI-era slang signifying a political activist)? Her truculence and rage at the white man was, heaven knows, fully justified, but she wound up cutting off her nose to spite the white faces of others. And that's the rub. Alcohol and great lashings of food helped to stave the pain, but they ruined the sexy figure of a great star once dubbed "Sweet Mama Stringbean." Painful stories about how, in later life, she needed to have extra accommodations made for her. Though her talent never failed her, at some point she began going over to the right wing, and in this case it seemed pretty incredible that a race pioneer would have embraced Nixon and others the way she did. Other entertainers shunned her for her politics, but let's face it, had she been a different sort of person, they might have remained admirers her whole life long.

How far is too far? I'm not crazy about Lena Horne, but Waters was vicious to Horne on the set of Stormy Weather, terrorizing the younger soubrette and provoking a huge backlash among studio executives, effectively crippling her own career. Waters was twice the singer Horne was, but she wound up steaming when Horne robbed her of her signature song, "Stormy Weather," effectively making it her own number. Yes, I'd be annoyed too, but Waters just came off looking bad.
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