I read the 1972 autobiography, To Me It’s Wonderful, by Ethel Waters, because I was curious about Ethel’s life and wanted to see if the book would be a suitable gift for my mom.
How did I get interested in Ethel Waters? Last fall at church, I heard His Eye is on the Sparrow, a song I’d always associated with Ethel Waters’ amazing voice range and her soulful, sincere, and clear way of communicating.
So I went online.
Isn’t it amazing how much info is available on the internet? I love following threads about people. In this case, Ethel Waters was also a famous actress, so I got two of her movies from the library – Cabin in the Sky (1943) and Member of the Wedding (1952.)
I found this rendition of her song (from Member of the Wedding.) “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”
Anyway, the first book by her that I found was His Eye is in the Sparrow, originally published in 1951. I was surprised to find out Ethel learned the song as a little girl. Although Ethel didn’t identify publicly as a Christian until much later, the song quickly became her trademark.
Ethel had no childhood. Her mom had been raped and was only twelve years old when she gave birth to Ethel. It was Ethel’s grandmother who cared for her, but little Ethel had to fend for herself from the age of six years old and up: she ate and slept wherever she could find a place among her only friends, the prostitutes and drug dealers in her neighborhood in Philadelphia. Although music drew her into church sometimes, she found her niche as a night club singer and later as a dramatic actress.
As I read the book, I realized the language was too rough, too graphic, and too full of swear words that would offend my mom. Surely there had to be more to Ethel Waters’ story. So I looked online and stumbled upon the book, To Me It’s Wonderful.
Ethel Waters narrates her spiritual journey with transparency, humility, and her inimitable humor. (It’s a clean read, one that I gladly gave to my mom.)
Ethel told of getting saved as a young teen at church. Years later, she heard Billy Graham on the radio and wanted to hear him in person when he came to New York. She found herself among the crowd at Madison Square Garden, where his straightforward preaching resonated with her. Night after night she went to hear Billy preach, until one night she rededicated her life to the Lord.
People at Madison Square Garden noticed her. One day Cliff Barrows invited her to sing with the choir, so she did. He asked her to sing, His Eye is on the Sparrow, and the spellbound crowd loved her. From that day forward, she sang at Billy Graham meetings whenever her schedule and health permitted. She and the choir often sang Oh, How I Love Jesus, and she would harmonize with a second part, To Me It’s Wonderful!
At age seventy-six, Ethel wrote,
I’m into my old age now, but I don’t have anything special to say to older people any more than I have to young. People are people. The young have the handicap of no experience. The old have the handicap of infirmity, of weakened bodies, and sometimes they’re confused in their minds. So are the young. What keeps me steady in my old age is what I’ve already told – closeness to Jesus. This will keep the young steady, too. He wants to be close to anyone who will let Him. No matter their age. To me it’s wonderful!”*
Who would like this book
I’d highly recommend this book to people of all ages who enjoy reading autobiographies, testimonies, humor, and uplifting stories of American entertainers in the twentieth century.
*To Me It’s Wonderful, page 146
posted on March 3, 2015