Ethel Waters

Am I Blue: 1921-1947

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One of the '20s female singers who broke down the walls separating jazz and blues from standards, Ethel Waters made the way plain for Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, and was every bit their artistic equal. This Allegro collection, through its Jazz Legends series, compiles 20 tracks (not the 21 listed on the back) of Waters in her prime, singing the songs that made her famous. The title track from 1929 is the most highly regarded, although Am I Blue: 1921-1947 contains many more examples of her artistry. With just a passing nod to her background in the classic female blues ("Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night," "You Can't Do What My Last Man Did," "Do What You Did Last Night"), the disc focuses rightly on her near-definitive readings of the early century's biggest jazz standards: "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Dinah," "Stormy Weather," "I'm Coming Virginia," and "Cabin in the Sky." One of the first inhibitors of her songs, Waters convinced listeners that she felt a range of emotions -- sly and vivacious one moment, forlorn and dejected the next -- as she sang her songs, and jazz vocal music is the better for it. As mentioned earlier, one track ("Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe") is missing from the program.

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