Original 8" x 10" James Hargiss Connelly photograph of Ethel Waters, looking very much like Josephine Baker. In fact, the pose was inspired by the parody of Baker that was part of Waters' Broadway debut in a show called Africana.
Josephine Baker was Waters' understudy at the Plantation Club in 1925, a landmark run that established both of them as huge stars — Waters debuted the song "Dinah" there and it became the first international hit to emerge from a nightclub revue.
One day, Baker got to perform when Waters became sick. Waters quickly got "unsick" when she realized what a threat Baker was and they had a huge fight over it. However, Baker's one performance was seen by a visiting French nightclub owner who invited her to Paris — by the end of 1925 Baker was famous in Paris.
In 1927, Ethel Waters made her Broadway debut, starring in the musical review Africana, and the second part of the show began on a stage set depicting Paris and featured Waters doing a scathing parody of Josephine Baker, who was then riding high at a Parisian theater. After 72 performances on Broadway, the show went on the road for an out of town tour.
Ethel Waters was the first black superstar — an innovator who opened all the theatrical doors previously closed to the black performers of her day, a key figure in the development of African American culture between the World Wars.
She broke barrier after barrier, becoming the first black woman heard on the radio, the first black singer to perform on television, the first African American to perform in an integrated cast on Broadway, and the first black woman to perform in a lead dramatic role on Broadway.
As a singer Waters introduced over 50 songs that became hits, including standards of the magnitude of "St. Louis Blues" and "Stormy Weather." Her jazzy yet controlled vocal style influenced a generation of vocalists, black and white. Widely imitated during the 30s and 40s, one hears echoes of Ethel Waters in many singers who came after her.