The sister of famous '20s pianist and organist Porter Grainger, Sister Ethel Grainger was a real sister as well. She and another nun, Sister Odette Jackson, comprised a gospel vocal duo called Odette and Ethel. Among the historic recordings these women of the cloth were involved in was the first commercial release of the gospel standard entitled "When the Train Comes Along." This beautiful piece has been interpreted by performers of many persuasions; the contrast is rich and deep between the Odette and Ethel version and a later cover by old-timey music maestro Uncle Dave Macon.
Grainger and Jackson's work in the '20s constituted part of an initial assault on the public on the part of gospel music, not by the God Squad but by the recording industry. The positive public response to recordings such as "It's Your Turn Now But My Time After Awhile" proved that a market existed for black gospel records, a commercial concept nobody has forgotten ever since. The status of Odette and Ethel in this scenario has unfortunately been overshadowed by one of their frequent recording partners, the Rev. J.C. Burnett. He continued making gospel recordings for decades following his session with the nuns in the second half of the '20s and was eventually discovered by R&B archivists who aren't even particularly religious.
Burnett's audacious performance style and prolific recording career have provided plenty of material for reissues, including several lengthy volumes on the Document label. Sister Grainger is normally heard most clearly in the opening sections of hellish tracks such as "Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace." Reverend Burnett soon takes over almost completely with a babble of emotional preaching, but Odette and Ethel can still be heard in the background making encouraging comments. Brother Porter Grainger also played on much secular music, including many nasty blues recorded by Bessie Smith. In turn, one of the other organists accompanying on the early Burnett, Grainger, and Jackson recordings was Fats Waller.