On July 27, 1964, the actress Ethel Waters mesmerized an opening-night Lobero audience by reprising her Broadway award-winning performance in the Carson McCullers play The Member of the Wedding.

Waters was an African-American blues singer and actor who consistently broke the color barrier during her long career, and her 5 nights on the Lobero stage were considered the highlight of the 1964 summer stage season.

Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1896. She first married at the age of 13 and began singing blues at a Philadelphia nightclub when she was 17. In the 1920’s she received her first recording contract and toured the nation on what was known as the “white time” vaudeville circuit – performing live for white audiences and combined with screenings of silent films.

In 1933, Ethel Waters was cast in a starring role in an Irving Berlin Broadway musical and became the first African American woman to integrate Broadway. A few years later, she would become the first African American to star in her own television show, a 1939 NBC special called The Ethel Waters Show.

Carson McCullers’s 1946 novel The Member of the Wedding was adapted into a Broadway play in 1950 and into a Fred Zinnemann film in 1952. Considered to be one of the great “coming-of-age” stories in American literature, the story is set in a small town in Georgia where twelve-year-old tomboy Frankie Addams (played by on stage and screen by Julie Harris) and Frankie’s surrogate mother, the cook and housekeeper Berenice Sadie Brown (Ethel Waters), sensitively explore the era’s gender and racial expectations. Waters won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for her performance.

The Santa Barbara News-Press raved about Ethel Waters’ Lobero appearance. “Miss Waters, truly a legend in her own time, put on a display of emotions ranging from immense dignity to giggling little-girlishness, and the opening-night audience which almost filled the Lobero loved her shadings and nuances, her easy naturalness and her command of the stage.”

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Special thanks to the Santa Barbara Public Library and Jace Turner, Community Relations Librarian.

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