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His Eye is on the Sparrow

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  112 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
Ethel Waters's His Eye is on the Sparrow stands as perhaps the greatest autobiography of a black female performer, capturing both the horror and the joy of the African American woman's experience through the often bitter yet always forgiving voice of an indomitable spirit. This edition is supplemented with a new historical preface and over a dozen photographs.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 22nd 1992 by Da Capo Press (first published January 1st 1951)
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Mary Mendenhall
Feb 14, 2011 Mary Mendenhall rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this's an autobiography about Ethel Waters. She was an African American performer, who was born at the turn of the 20th century and lived / became famous in spite of poverty, a rough / unpredictable upbringing, and all of the set-backs of racial tension / civil rights. She was raised in the roughest of circumstances and was a tough lady- both in action and attitude. She had natural talent and slowly worked her way up through the ranks to become a famous blues singer, Broadwa ...more
Jan 22, 2009 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
Now, here was a woman! What a voice, even in writing. This is a powerhouse of a memoir about what drives art. As vaudeville tell-all and window into early 20th century black music it is fascinating. The story of her life is pure blues. Waters' incisive social commentary and deep compassion are what really grabbed me and put this book right in the same league as Bound for Glory.
Lisa Kiguru
May 18, 2011 Lisa Kiguru rated it it was amazing
This was such an impressionable book. It gave an inside look into the real hardship of life for a black woman growing up in the slums in the early 1900's. Her faith in God and unwillingness to be ashamed was inspirational. I am thankful for Ms. Waters taking the time to write her life story. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Clare Kane
Apr 11, 2014 Clare Kane rated it it was amazing
absolutely fabulous book detailing the life of a young African American woman born and raised in poverty who makes her way to the big time using her beautiful voice! The name-dropping can be quite laborious at times but I believe Ethel included this so as to extend recognition to her fellow Black performers of the time. Overall it is a fascinating life story of an immensely strong and passionate woman!
mike jay
Aug 23, 2011 mike jay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I am not a non-fiction reader, I do read some but rarely. And when I do read one I'm a tough customer. But I really enjoyed this. Took me awhile to read it but that was just because I've been doing less reading what with summer and all.

Anyway, four star (heh, probably would of been five if I dug non-fiction) rating. I had only ever known of Water's by watching the movie adaptation of Carson McCullers's "The Member of the Wedding"... Those that know me h
Lisa Burris
Jun 18, 2015 Lisa Burris rated it liked it
Ethel Waters had a life that is almost too unbelievable to be real. Reading her autobiography now, over 60 years after it was published, one wonders how much of it is really true. I don't doubt her harrowing experiences on stage in Jim Crow America in the 1920s and '30s, but, if Waters was writing today, would she have portrayed herself as such a perfect role model? Despite the fact that she grew up among whores, thieves, alcoholics, and addicts, she drank only milk in speakeasies and she held s ...more
Mar 12, 2016 Rita marked it as to-read
NYR 29 Sept 2011

see also Ed Murrow's 1954 televised interview with Ethel Waters on YouTube, which briefly mentions this book. As far as I can tell, I have not yet ordered this book.

reviewed by Robert Gottlieb

Sounds worth reading.
Written late in her career in 1951 "first popular entertainer to have produced a serious autobiography that was not only authentic but a best seller"

Note in this review mentions Donald Bogle's thorough recent bio of Waters, "Heat Wave". Bogle is the acknowledge leading e
Nichole Naprstek
Jan 26, 2015 Nichole Naprstek rated it it was amazing
One of the first "grown up" books that I read when I was a child. Loved it then and nothing has changed.
Sep 01, 2008 Dana rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: music lovers, theater lovers, history lovers, Black history lovers
Honest and full of grace, His Eye is on the Sparrow offers insight into a time and place almost 100 years old, Black vaudeville, overt racism, and musical styles that have since come out of fashion. But from the poverty she describes that defined her childhood, to the emotion that she applied to her music, to the struggle she continued to face even after she made it big, there is a timeless quality to this book. Because of her writing as well as her singing voice, she will be remembered, perhaps ...more
Aug 03, 2011 Cookiesue9x rated it liked it
Recommended to Cookiesue9x by: Book Club
Shelves: book-club
I have been a fan of Ethel Waters' since I saw her in the movies Pinky , and A Member of The Wedding (one of my all-time fave movies also with Julie Harris and Brandon DeWilde).
I didn't care for the writing style of this book, it seemed like she was mostly listing dates, names, and places of people she performed with.
The parts I did like were, when she talked more intimately about herself, her family and her religion
Sep 10, 2011 Phyllis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It gave a lot of info about music, black performers and musicians in the early part of the century, most of the names weren't familiar to me, and at times it was hard to relate. But it was well-written, and since I do remember Ethel Waters, I'm glad I read it.
Feb 02, 2010 Kit rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recentlyread
This autobiography is devastating. Ethel Waters tells the story of her childhood in the slums with the bluntly objective eye of a James Ellroy. "At thirteen I was married, and at fourteen I was separated and on my own." Jesus.
Sep 03, 2008 Robin rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book! Ethel Waters shares her life. She was a woman who rose above her circumstances in life. Her story is inspirational and encouraging.
Apr 03, 2012 Phyllis rated it liked it
It was interesting, but I wasn't familiar with a lot of the people and events in the book.
Sep 17, 2011 Sa added it
A very inspiring book on her transition in life. Its a very touching master piece.
Laura Ellen Rogers
Sep 14, 2013 Laura Ellen Rogers rated it it was ok
Boring. I can't finish it.
Melissa Jean
May 16, 2014 Melissa Jean rated it it was amazing
Intense, raw, beautiful, hopeful, unforgettable.

"Your imagination can carry you just so far. Only those who have been hurt deeply can understand what pain is, or humiliation. Only those who are being burned know what fire is like. I sang 'Stormy Weather' from the depths of the private hell in which I was being crushed and suffocated." - page 220
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