Ethel BriscoeEthel Briscoe:
Full Interview

Recorded 3/25/05. Please be patient as media loads.


Ethel: Boy did I love it. There was a child who would come into class and couldn't hold their head up, their spine. And I told a supervisor to put a mirror in front of the crib so she could see her reflection and that would make her--

Tracey: Keep her head up.

Ethel: Work that head up and after a while she could just do it.

Tracey: That's a good idea, wow.

Ethel: I felt so good about it. Let them come in here ok. (Background conversation)

The Davis Sisters.

Ethel: I just want to show you my picture.

Tracey: Sure.

Alexandra: Um hmm.

Ethel: We have the gospel group I sang with. That was in the 50s. (laughter)

Chen: What was the name of the group?

Ethel: That was back in the 50s, The Dumont Gospel Singers.

Alexandra: The Dumont Gospel Singers.

Ethel: And we were, when we were around, we were the new kids on the block.


You know like the Ward Singers, The Davis Sisters, they were well known groups. Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland all of those various artists was ­­­­up there and we were the young one on the block and of course we got all the attention. (laughter)

Ethel Briscoe speaks about her early
experience with The Dumont Gospel Singers.
Ethel: And that really made ya felt good. Performing with such well you know, well names, good names, big names. And it really helped them to focus on us and helped to promote us also, which that's what our manager was looking forward to because we were young girls and of course we needed training and we didn't know very much and we had to listen and learn because we weren't out there in the field with anyone. And but I give him credit, he taught us a lot. He even took us to various restaurants to show us etiquette.

Tracey: Wow

Ethel: That's the way he was.

Tracey: How old were you?

Ethel: You mean now?

Tracey: No during that time.


Ethel: That time I was about, I was about lets see, I guess 19, 19 or 20 cause I was out of school. When I first started I wasn't out of school though, I was about 15 then.

Nerlie: Ok.

Ethel: Yeah but really when I got into it I was about 19. But I used to just, we just sang at the neighborhood churches. You know we just started out and the people used to marvel over us cause of these voices ringing out so strong, and everyone said oh those girls really got a voice because they would belt out so and it was just three girls. And that sound they just went loony over it. But we were very young and we weren't experienced in anything. So our manager was more like a teacher too. He was teaching us as we went along and he would really get us out there in the field, with various groups so we could be noticed. That was really that was the main objectivity.


The Dumont Gospel Singers
And as we went out to perform we had rules to follow because you have to have rules everything you do if you don't things go in a shamble. So we didn't do what we were supposed to do as far as being a lady, presenting yourself as a lady, as far as you being dressed in your proper attire you got fined for it.

Nerlie: Oh wow.

Ethel: Oh yeah he would fine ya. And I was one who didn't like hats and (Laughter)

Nerlie: You had to wear a hat.

Ethel: You had to wear a hat and I was very upset about it. So I tried him one time I said I'm not wearing no hat out here today, but didn't I get fined for that hat? (Laughter)

Ethel: I learned my lesson, I learned my lesson but all in all he was very good. I got to give it to him he was very good.


Chen: And what was his name?

Ethel: Jakey Rice.

Chen: Jakey Rice.

Ethel: Um hmm, he exposed us to a lot of things. Now when we went. All right we went traveling, we had to go traveling in order to be recognized. And he first started out in the southern states because that's really where a lot of the good strong backers are. We went to
Chicago, one year, stayed there and we were on the road, for about two, say about two weeks. And we got to meet Mahalia Jackson and we were entertained by her in her home and she was well known cause she's well known right today. And she just fell in love with us. She said you girls are gonna be something. And what I like is they took time out to talk with us, that's what I really like and they would tell us the dos and don'ts and what you have to learn to do because you can be a failure as well as you can be a success.

Jakey Rice and Mahalia Jackson.


And that what we trying to not be a failure. And she also explained to us about that you must always, always keep yourself in the right way in the public eye. She always told us that too. And also that you must learn to have perseverance, patience and wait-- perseverance,
patience and learn to always pay attention because if you don't you're going to lose it. And read your music sheets if you have to, study and I used to hate to have to study. (Laughter)

Ethel: But, uh--

Nerlie: Were your parents very supportive like of the music?

Ethel: Yes well I'll say, I'll say my sister, my oldest sister, my aunt, I was raised by her, my mother died at an early age.


Nerlie: Ok.

Ethel: Um hmm and my oldest sister used to get on the train and tell her like “You know, let her go, let her go she's all right, she's a good girl, she a good scholar in school.” I was a good scholar in school. She said what's any harm in her pursuing something she likes to do? So finally she gave in and said ok cause that was the first time we went away from home. And she's not getting on an airplane, those people will crash and I'll never see her again. (Laughter)

Ethel: I said oh, she do love me. (laughter) But finally we got our first trip, that was to Chicago. And I was so excited, I was just so elated because this was something I had never done before. We always sang but we sang around in the city, we'd never been no where.


So by the time we got to Chicago we were met by Roberta Martins which was a very well known, she had a big time music school there and the other fella James Cleveland, he was another one. And they all got together and said we're gonna let these girls really soar. We're gonna try and expose them to everything. So to my amazement this is an old star, that I, she was one of my mentors, Dinah Washington. She knew them and she was on the agenda that night. Oh I like to fainted (laughter) oh I had a fit, Dinah Washington.

...when you get into music, you really have to know what you're doing. You really have to like what you're doing, because if you don't like it you're not going to function properly.

Ethel: Yes?

Unknown: Someone's looking for you, Jhanelle.

Chen: Oh can you send her in.

Tracey: Thank you.

Chen: Thanks.

Ethel: Thank you. So I got a chance to talk to her and I got her autograph, and I got a picture taken with her, and I was just so elated. So anyway we sang on later that night.


Ethel: But I went back and I said “Jakey don't make me sing that song, don't make me sing that song.” (Laughter) He always used me specifically when he wanted something really. I said “don't make me sing that song” so finally, whenever he talk what he say you got to do,
so I did. So anyway when I got back, she said “I saw what you did.” I said, “What?” She said, “You didn't want to sing that song.” (Laugher) I said, “I sure didn't.” She said, “But guess what, you tore it up.” I said, “Yeah I know,” because I really got into it.” But afterward she
said, “You really didn't want to sing that song.” I said, “You're right.” She said, “Girl don't give up, don't give up.” This is my husband.

Herbert: I couldn't find you today. I've been looking for you.

Ethel: Oh sorry about that.

Tracey: Let me stop this.


Tracey: Ok, sorry about that.

Nerlie: Maybe you could repeat that again--

Ethel: Oh, ok. Like, when you get into music, you really have to know what you're doing. You really have to like what you're doing, because if you don't like it you're not going to function properly. That's understood, that's what I learned. Because I know many times I went out
on the road and didn't want to, and I was told I had to, I got into it--and another thing-- now this is for singing or even playing an instrument--you know, doesn't matter whatever you do and you really have to get into it. Now, the thing of it is, the audience is out there observing you, of course, but you're up on the platform performing you just be your own world most of the time because you wanna do good, you don't wanna do bad, you want the audience to enjoy it, you're tryin to fulfill everybody's--but you have to fulfill your own first. It's gotta come from in here (motions to chest). If it don't come from the inside, you're not gonna do well. Now what type of instruments do any of you play? You play any instruments?


Chen: Yea, I play the flute.

Ethel: Oh I love that! I love the flute--my daughter plays the flute, she loves it--I think it's a beautiful sound I really do. A beautiful sound. And what do you do?

Nerlie: I sing. I play the piano--the keyboard.

Ethel: Oh that's beautiful. That's beautiful.

Now, the thing of it is, the audience is out there observing you, of course... you don’t wanna do bad, you want the audience to enjoy it, you’re tryin’ to fulfill everybody’s--but you have to fulfill your own first.

Tracey: I used to play the saxophone.

Ethel: All right! That sounds nice--that's his instrument. That's what he plays.

Voice: Oh yea?

Herbert: Alto or tenor?

Tracey: Alto

Herbert: Oh ok. I'm alto, tenor, and baritone.

Ethel: Oh he loves it. (all laugh)


Alexandra: I sang in the high school chorus.

Ethel: Ok--that sounds good. And what do you do?

Jhanelle: I sing too and I play the piano.

Ethel: Oh--that's so nice. It's so ironic and that's what I'm sayin'--the 3 P's--perseverance, patience, and practice. They're the three main ingredients because I used to play the piano and you know what--I lost it. You got to keep after it. I was a young kid when they had
the gentleman to come in back in the day, well y'all too young--they had the gentleman who'd come in to teach me to play--$5 a lesson, I'll never forget it. After all, he told my aunt, he says “you know what (laugh) you're wastin your money.” Cause I would play anything, by ear. He said, “I think it's just best for you to just let her go” (laugh). But now I can't--I dunno why I can't grasp it. I can play some notes, but--I really would like to overcome it--I really would like to just perfect it and that's funny--if you don't practice you'll lose it. And
that's the truth. That's why you have to learn to stick with it. It's very difficult if you don't. Now as far as singin', singin is about how to cultivate your voice, that's very important--to cultivate your voice, and you always sing from the diaphragm--


Jhanelle: So on that, what kind of activities or exercises did you do to train your voice?

Ethel: To train my voice? First of all, you stand up against the wall, and practice breathing. Breathing exercises- from your diaphragm. Then, you go to a scale. Whatever scale you think you think you can work better on, that's the one you keep using. And you never, never
strain your voice. If you think you can do that note and it don't come out right, don't do it. You gonna be in trouble--I'll tell you that..


Ethel: I don't care what octave it is, you'll be in trouble. So the reason why you have to practice and cultivate it is because if you don't--an untrained voice sounds like something come from out the woodroots somewhere (laugh) you know what I mean? I mean squeaky and (impersonations) and that's why it needs cultivating. But one thing for your voice, you need a lot of practice. But you don't over practice. And you always try to keep yourself at a certain tone--don't try to overdo it. Because you can tire your voice just like you tire
anything else--and you got to learn that. That's one thing for sure.

Chen: So would you say there were a lot of big egos back then--you know, in the singing business?


Ethel: Oh YESSS, yessss it was. And we thought we were--oh, how'd you put it--you know the Boyz II Men? That's what we thought we were. I mean you couldn't tell us nothing--I mean this one pullin at it, that one pullin at it you know. And they gave us dinners galore. I mean, this one try to outdo the other, and this one try to--you know. Because we were the guests.

Alexandra: Are those pictures?

Ethel: Yea I think--I think.

Herbert: You play your saxophone?

Tracey: No, not at school. It's at home, so, not a lot.

Herbert: I wish I could blow my horn again. I love it. She said to me, it has to come from here--it's so much better when it comes from the heart. It's an inner feeling. And singing--when you perform you're just in another world. I mean, your voice, it's beautiful. It's just beautiful.

Tracey: The saxophone's not my heart, though (chuckle). Dancing was, so I kind of gave up the saxophone for the dancing, so--

Ethel: Oh ok, well that's good too. Gotta have your music to dance. Yea, that sounds alright.


Nerlie: Ethel, where were you born?

Ethel: Here in Philadelphia, in Philadelphia--I was born right in Philadelphia. Hahnemann Hospital--

Herbert: 1902-- (lots of laughter)

Ethel: I attended all the young neighborhood schools, and I graduated from William Penn High for girls...mhmm-- then a little later on when I got a little older, after my children got a little older, cause I had six children, I went to business college for a little while. And I really was pursuing business administration and after that I got into children--this program for children with dysfunctional mothers. I really got wrapped up in that because I loved it; it was a big challenge, and I liked it. I liked the children, I liked the babies. And I liked success with something, to feel that you can succeed in something. It makes you feel good--mhmm. And I used to sing there to them on the programs---


Jhanelle: Did your children pick that up? Are your children musical?

Ethel: Yes. My baby daughter--Sheryl. Yes, she'll be 41-- tomorrow. And my son Stephen, he has a lovely tenor voice--

Herbert: Beautiful voice

Ethel: Lovely tenor voice. He really has a beautiful tenor voice. And so does Johnny with instruments.

Herbert: Mmm. Yes, Johnny plays guitar.

Ethel: Yes, he's good.

Herbert: Debbie plays the flute. Herbert plays guitar--

Ethel: She's the flute girl.

Herbert: He can sing and play the trumpet. And we used to have some good times together--at home--we used to have some good times. Johnny ran away from home to California, but he came back.


Ethel: Came back. He's not doing too much (laugh). See you have to learn to follow the right tracks. You can--really music is a beautiful field. Really is the most beautiful field I've ever experienced in my lifetime. I really love it. I wouldn't give nothing for it. Right now I go to various functions, and don't laugh, they have me to sing at a lot of wakes. A lot of wakes! Every time I turn around, “Ms. Briscoe, would you please sing?”-- I say “Oh, lord” and I don't wanna sing none at that time, and I say “Oh lord.” So one man, I'll never forget
it-- I cracked up, well really my sister-in-law's husband, we were over there and I came in the door and he said, “Oh there's the funeral lady” (laughter). I said, “thanks”. But that's what I did a lot--singing at a lot of wakes, and ugh, schoolchildren and I was in the
church's community.


Herbert: And here- and here-

Ethel: Yeah, yeah.

Jhanelle: Is that how you started, Ethel, in the church?

Ethel: Yes. I did start in the church. I really did. The Sunday school choir-- that's what we started out with. Then they start spinning around and then they would like to say “to keep the

Ethel's beginnings with her church choir
and manager.
children busy”. But, in the neighborhood they would have a little choir gathered up in
the block. Two block radiuses. And we would practice. And we were called the Sunbeams. So how we met our manager. He came around and picked us out. And he said “I want to talk to you. I want to talk to you--” (Laughs). And we went and sat down while he introduced himself to us. And he told us what he wanted to do.


So we said we can't uh “we can't uh tell you that we can do it. You have to talk to ours parents.” You know that we were- weren't old enough. So, he said “I'll definitely talk to your parents.” He said “Really. Because, I definitely can do something with you girls.” So that's how it all started out. It really d-- so then he started venturing out where we should go. And, he know- he knew the ropes. He would go and venture out and seek this place and that place. And, “I got interviewers here and I want you--” you know, and, and when we know
anything, he done set up something for us. All we'd do is get ourselves together, and we'd get prepared to perform. And that's how it started. Then, he'd start having meetings 'cause young girls get a little silly. (Laughter) So he had to school us on that. Like I say, he was very good. He taught us etiquette. He taught us how to- I'll never forget. I told my husband. I said “he was the first person that taught me how to eat a lobster.”
(Laughs) And I love lobster.


He said “Oh, you like lobster?” And I said “Yes I do. But, I don't know how to eat it.” (Laughs) He taught me. These are the things that he would do.

Chen: So you'd say that talent was only part of it. Image has a lot to do with it.

Ethel: Yes.

Chen: Just like today?

Ethel: Yes.

Chen: Although today image probably more that talent. (Laughs)

Ethel: Yeah. Well, see. Now, the difference between today an- and then is uh a lot of then the- they go off on a deep end, and then somebody will pick somebody up. Maybe they're not too good. And they figure they'll go and try something out. And then there's discouragement there because they don't have the proper leadership. They don't have the proper encouragement. They don't have the proper support. Because, that's why it's a lot of failures. Have you ever watched, what is the name that program? Where they sing- the talent sings and uh--

Jhanelle: American Idol?

Ethel: American Idol.

Jhanelle: Yeah, I love it. That's my show! (Laughs)

Ethel: I watch it every week.

Jhanelle: (Laughs) Exactly, every week.

Ethel: Every week.

Jhanelle: They're not that bad this year. They were better last year.

Ethel: Yeah, yeah. Mhm (Laughter)


Ethel: I was so sorry the young man walked off like he did. (Laughter)

Jhanelle: Yes, Mario.

Ethel: Yeah, he was good!

Jhanelle: Never strain. Yeah, I love that show. It's great.

Ethel: But they couldn't make him stay. But, he was good!

Jhanelle: But I think it was an example, you know- He said that there were so many pressures and all that stuff. Do you feel pressures when you were in the-

Ethel: Yeah.

Jhanelle: -- business? Yeah.

Ethel: Yeah. Yeah, I did. Yes, I did. When I was younger I felt a lot of pressure. I always felt that I wasn't doing good enough.

Jhanelle: Yeah.

Ethel: I always just felt that I wasn't good enough, period. And--

Herbert: -- what Dinah Washington told you that day?

Ethel: Yes. I just told them about that. I felt that if -

Herbert: You probably don't know who Dinah Washington is.

Jhanelle: Oh yeah we do-- (Laughter) (Sings) “What a difference a day makes--” (Laughs)

Ethel: -Oh! She told you something! (Laughter) Cause I loved her. And on the bright side, I had went into a building where we're getting ready to perform, and my knees would be shaking.


I feel pricking all up and down my spine, but you gotta learn that you may feel all this, take a couple of breathing-

Herbert: Deep breaths.

Ethel: Say “I'm gonna do it.”

Herbert: Once you--

Ethel: And, once you start and get into yourself, that's it. Then you're soaring. So you can't pay attention to that bad feeling. Sometimes people I say “Oh, I'm scared. I don't want to do that, those people” and no, you don't even think that way. You just say “Well, I got to do it. I'm gonna do it.” And you know anything, once you start, that's it. That really is it.

Alexandra: Were there specific places in Philly, like clubs or churches, that you used to perform in a lot?

Ethel: Yes. I was South Philly, West Philly, Germantown- (Laughs) all over, really.


Herbert: Chicago--

Ethel: Yeah, I know. She mean in Philly. In Philly. All over.

Herbert: The name is well known. All over Philadelphia people were coming to know where they were at.

Ethel: Yeah, it was all over Philly. West, North, South, Germantown, everywhere. I was much younger then I wasn't quite familiarized with the neighborhoods, you know. If I go somewhere, I never even been to that neighborhood, but I know we ride up cause because you know we were transported around. (Laughs) And we would just be there. And in Camden we did a short radio session in Camden every Sunday morning.

Herbert: ... every Sunday morning.

Ethel: Yes. It was nice!

And, once you start and get into yourself, that's it.
Then you're soaring.

Chen: What about the audience? Were- did the audiences vary or were they pretty much the same kind of people? Or did you meet any
interesting characters in the audience?

Ethel: Yes we did. (Laughter)

Chen: Oh, will you tell us about some of them?


Ethel: Sure. The youngsters, they always had a lot of questions for you: “Why are you doing this?” (Giggles)

Ethel: “What do you see in any--” Well, you know, “Do you like it?” This is what the younger people would say. Now, the older set would say “Oh, you're wonderful”, “Keep up the good work”, you know, “I like it”, “Where you gonna be next?” Those the questions we get from the older set. And the youngsters, they had a lot of questions. “Well, why you wearing that color?”(Laughter) You know things like that. And that's what they always believed in doing. They always wanted to find a curiosity. But uh all in all, really, we never ran into too, too harsh of audience. Thank goodness we- I'll never forget. One time, it was our first anniversary. That's right. The Davis Sisters were well known. They were they best interviewers out there at the time.


And they were our guest. And the church was packed to the door. And, it was the first time they ever had an audience that large, that vast. And we just- (scoffs) we were all dressed up in our olive green gowns. Oh we looked so pretty! (Giggles) But, I said “Oh my God I hope everything goes alright,” just because of the crowd. That's where I come back to say you don't pay that crowd any mind. Once you get over that beginning, you're okay. You begin to feel more relaxed, more stable. More secure, really. But, if you're gonna keep that stiffness up or that shaky feeling- you won't be able to do anything. And that's what I learned. And I had to learn that for a while, too, because I was really scared of people- I didn't like a lot of people (Laughs) around me like that it frightened me.

Nerlie: What's, um like, the crowds? Like, did you see, like, more young people? Like, were they interested in it? Were they-


Ethel: Yes, they were.

Nerlie: Were they really all about it?

Ethel: Yes they were.

Chen: Would they get into the music? Like get up and..

Ethel: Yeah.

Chen: --dance?

Ethel: Yes they would. The youngsters sure would. Even back there then. They really did.

Nerlie: Well, but what got you into jazz though- Like, is it- I know you like saying that you have a love for music. And you, you love to sing. But why was it that jazz interested you?

Ethel: Well, now I really just sang gospel.

Alexandra: Yeah, just gospel.

Nerlie: Oh just gospel, right? Oh, okay.

Ethel: Just gospel, but I love jazz. Don't get me wrong, I love jazz! That was my- Yeah, when my free time was, that's all I listened to most of the time. (Laughs) and blues.

Herbert: Yeah.

Ethel: But really (scoffs) the reason why I couldn't get into jazz was I had so much gospel in me.

Jhanelle: Exactly.

Ethel: You know it's kind of difficult. You can't change over that quick.

Herbert: Cause they didn't allow it. The parents di---

Ethel: And--

Herbert: I was just jazz. They were- that's why I had a hard time dating her. (Laughter)

Chen: How did you two meet?

Ethel: How did we meet?

Chen: Yea.

Ethel: Tell her how we met, Dad.


Herbert: In church. She told me to give up my horn. I had to give up my horn in order to see her. I put my horn down. That's how it happened. My horn and jazz is everything, and she singing--I'm better in church. I'm better in church. And that's why I started coming back with her. Just to see her. (Laughter)

Chen: Made you a better man.

Herbert: The night clubs I was singing in and she was in church.

Jhanelle: Aww, that's so sweet.

Herbert: She told me, you want me you gotta give up the horn. I had to put my horn down. And I put the horn down.

Ethel: We got married early. Very early. Tell her, we've been married how many years?

Herbert: Forty-nine.

Jhanelle: Oh great, the big one's coming up.

Ethel: Yes it is, January 31.

But really the reason why I couldn't get into jazz was I had so much gospel in me.

Tracey: Can I take some pictures of you guys?

Ethel: Sure.

Tracey: Can I take your picture together-- for our project?


Herbert: Oh, I'm not looking like--

Ethel: That's alright! You're breathing. Get up here. (Laughter)

Herbert: Everybody looking so nice--

Chen: Was that your thought at the wedding too? (Laughter)

Ethel: You're breathing! Get up here!

Tracey: Here, let me take your picture.

Herbert: Oh, this isn't right.

Tracey: Why?

Herbert: Because of my appearance.

Tracey: Alright, smile. One, two, three--

Herbert: Oh, this is terrible.

Tracey: No, it came out nice, you wanna see it?

Ethel: Oh, yes it is!

Tracey: We will give you a copy.

Ethel: Oh, thank you! I like it!

Herbert: That's not too bad.

Ethel: It's us, you can't change that. Yes yes, that's good. He likes photography anyway. He was into photography before.


I just never, it's just something that never got to me. Never got to me. Now I like to deal with the songs, the cassettes, and tapes. That's what I deal with. I always wanted to write. My baby daughter writes beautiful. I mean the poems that girl sends us, I should have brought a couple of them. The poems that she sent us is amazing. I told her she should try to get them published but she's not into it.

Jhanelle: So just basically a little hobby.

Ethel: Yea, a hobby. That's what it is and she's into to her family. She had her son--her son is 15, her baby's only 15. And her daughter, she just turned 5. (Laughter)

Herbert: Her baby--she won't turn five until May.

Ethel: Oh, that's right. We were so shocked when she was pregnant. I said “Oh my god--”

Herbert: (undistinguishable)


Ethel: Oh you know her baby is 15 now? But she's a hard working girl. She's very good, I got to say that. She's in nursing. Got to say that she's very good, she's a very hard worker. Um--

Herbert: She's got a bum for a husband.

Ethel: We won't even go that route.

Herbert: He's a bum. He's a bum.

Ethel: She's doing her thing. She's on her second home. She's doing good.

Herbert: No thanks to him. He's a bum.

Ethel: Well we won't go that route.

Nerlie: You said you were nervous, like you got a little nervous before a show and all that--

Ethel: Yes I did.

Nerlie: But how was the feeling when you stood in front and just got the notes out, like how did you feel? Can you describe it?

Ethel speaks about the experience of
singing gospel.

Ethel: Yes I can. What happened was like this: I was shaking and sweating in my hands and all that and once I got up there, and once I started and the note came out like when the piano was playing and I started in with my note, I didn't see none of those people.


I just felt warm all inside. Just felt so warm and I just finally start belting out my song. Then I heard the response with the people getting excited. I finally looked around and said, “Oh, I'm in the midst of a crowd but I was okay.” I was okay, because once you stabilize yourself you're okay. You just can't keep that same feeling up. And I would just set myself and start feeling warm and feeling secure inside and I was okay.

Jhanelle: And I think that's the great thing about gospel music too, is we have a response from the audience.

Ethel: From the audience.

Jhanelle: Right.

Ethel: And when you get that response, don't fool yourself. You feel good about it because you know you're being accepted. You feel good about it and that makes--that encourages you more, you know? And that's what I did. I would continue to belt out because, like you say, when they're responding to you in such a way, you gonna start really--you know girl, get into it.


I was telling a girl the other day, I said “Yea, these heels come back, well you know I can't wear no heels.” I said, “Look at them heels.” Well I remember a time when I was singing I had on heels but they weren't quite as high as they are today though. Had on them heels, I walked across the stage and walked down--now see, I was feeling spiritual inside, and it just a good feeling inside--and I just belt out and walk around and just strut around and that'll be it. You perform, really.

Chen: Did you do a lot of solo acts, or was it mostly in groups?

Ethel: In groups.

Chen: In groups? Did you ever do solos? But you would have solo portions I'm sure.

Ethel: Portions, yes.

Chen: But like, just yourself in an act.

Ethel: No. Always with the group. Yes I did solos and they would back me up. All the girls they did solos also but he always chose me mostly for the singing because my voice so heavy and strong. And he, well he--well not both--but he knew I would put a song over cause boy.


When I was in the south touring--I tell you he was that way--he would put a warm towel around my neck. He would heat up butter I think and warm milk, something I though that was hideous, and he says, “Sip this. It's good for your vocal chords.” I said, “You not telling me to drink this.” He said, “Yes you have to drink it.” Finally through the coaching and all that I finally drank it down and he told me, “I want you to rest, I don't want you to sit up too late. Like the girls--those two girls--they be giggling and having fun and everything. I want you to rest.” I found my pride.

Herbert: He's a good man.

Ethel: He's very good. There was one song that really got over with the crowd and that was my song, and he didn't want me to crack. But I couldn't understand it then. I said, “Why is he picking on me?” (Laughter) But afterwards I understood that he really knew what to do and that's what I had to do.


Like if you're going to this place, this church one night, next night--cause we're new--another church another night, that's the song I gotta sing. Cause it's going over, like these popular songs today. Like a hit record or something. That's what I had to do. So I learned
to do it, I played with it.

Nerlie: How do you like the gospel music of today?

Ethel: Contemporary I don't like.

Nerlie: Like the Kirk Franklin--

Ethel: Yea I figured that. I did. I knew that. I like CeCe Winans, she's good, I like her. And uh... what's her name... that other girl, she has got, she's beautiful--

Jhanelle: Yolanda Adams?

Ethel: Yolanda Adams. I like her. I got her CDs. I like her.

Nerlie: That's still keeping up with the tradition--the tradition of gospel.

Ethel: That's what it is.

Jhanelle: What about way back. Way back when, who were the musicians and artists that you liked?


Ethel: Oh, back there then? Uh, Mahalia Jackson was number one, she was number one. The Martin singers, James Cleveland--

Herbert: He started with them. He started with them.

Ethel: Yea.

Herbert: He didn't have a name until he started with them.

Ethel: The Five Blind Boys. They're very good. Uh, quite a few.

Mahalia Jackson
Herbert: The Dixie Hummingbirds.

Ethel: The Dixie Hummingbirds. The Ward Singers.

Herbert: I don't think you're all familiar with these names we mentioned.

Jhanelle: Yes we are, some of them. I'll give you some of them. Some of them I have no clue.

Herbert: Which one do you remember, that you recall singing?

Jhanelle: I remember--everyone knows Mahalia Jackson. Everyone--I know--

Herbert: The Ward Singers?

Jhanelle: What's that?

Herbert: The Ward Singers.

Jhanelle: I've heard of them. And the Five Blind Boys.

Ethel: Yea, they're good.


Ethel: Did you see them on TV recently? You're probably weren't interested.

Nerlie: Yeah.

Ethel: They look good. And those boys can still--

Nerlie: Wow.

Ethel: I was so surprised.

Chen: Weren't they on Leno last month? Because I think --

Ethel: Yeah, they were on there, that's right!

Chen: Yeah, it was either Leno or Letterman. I can't remember.

Ethel: But they were on there.

Chen: Yeah, yeah.

Ethel: Their voices are just the same.

Jhanelle: Are they still making records?

Herbert: No, nah.

Ethel: No, they're not recording; they're just really being what you'd considered recognized. Recognition, that's what it's mostly about. It's beautiful. Oh, Aretha Franklin!

Group: Yeah.

Jhanelle: The Queen of--

Ethel: Oh yeah. We had a whole thing with her and her father in Atlantic City one time. She was young then. We had a good time that night, that week rather. We were really commuting back and forth, but Atlantic City's not that far.


We were commuting back and forth with her. She was young then. And she had that voice. She could really sing and play the piano too.

Jhanelle: Oh really?

Ethel: Yeah, she's good. She was good, very talented. I always said that, but my mentor was always Mahalia Jackson.

Nerlie: Does she still have contact?

Ethel: No, she's deceased.

Nerlie: No, I mean, sorry, with other people?

Ethel: Oh, not now, but I used to. They really have been fading away altogether. The Ward singers came to my house one day, after--my manager was killed. Yeah.


Clara Ward
That tore us apart, because he was like a father and of course the news got around, so Clara Ward came to the house. She wanted me to go and travel with them, but my aunt said no. Why, I don't know until this day, but I was young. She said, “No, she's not going.” They wanted to take me to California. (Laughter)

Ethel: You know how sometimes you wonder about something.

Nerlie: What might have been?

Ethel: Yeah, yeah.

Jhanelle: Did you see yourself merging into another genre of music apart from gospel or were you sure about gospel?

Ethel: The Blues.

Jhanelle: The Blues?

Ethel: I would love to sing the Blues.

Jhanelle: Did you ever think there was a contradiction between gospel and singing secular music? --cause Aretha kind of branched.

Ethel: Yeah, her and Al Green. I really think you do one or the other.


Gospel versus the Blues and secular music.

I just have a thing about that. You do one or the other. Even if you want to sing the other, go to that thing and then come back to gospel, not do them both at the same time. I don't agree with that at all.

Nerlie: Yeah, with gospel sometimes you have to live the music.

Ethel: Yes, you do. That's the reason I don't like it. I don't like to do that. You didn't ask me, “Did you ever sing the Blues?” well no.

Herbert: You do now.

Ethel: Yeah, at home. Yeah, that's a part of life also.

Herbert: If you'd be with me, you could really sing the Blues.
(Laughs all around)

Ethel: But I really love gospel. And I like the old fashioned gospel. I really do. Now, maybe one could get into contemporary, but it would have to be soulful.


Herbert:“I don't really care for contemporary music. Music has to be something you feel. If you don't feel it-- (Ethel acknowledged this.)

Herbert: If you don't feel it, you don't live it. Now in gospel they have a performance tone; it shows. I don't care for it at all.

Ethel: That's the truth because really I watch on Sunday morning--

Jhanelle: B.E.T.?

Ethel: Yeah, B.E.T.

Nerlie: Yeah, I know what you are talking about, the singer.

Ethel: The man. (Some group discussion)

Herbert: I know he's popular, but I don't care for him.

Nerlie: I know what you're talking about. It doesn't feel spiritual.

Ethel: It don't. It don't feel spiritual.

Nerlie: Yeah, it just feels like a show.


Herbert: Thank you.

Ethel: I can't get into it. Does anyone know Bobby?

Nerlie: Yes Bobby what? Bobby, something?

Herbert: I don't feel for him.

Ethel: Every Sunday morning. He's really quite popular.

Herbert: He looks phony to me.

Ethel: Have you seen Shirley Caesar?
(Group acknowledges)

Ethel: She dynamite. She's spiritual. She's dynamite. Those are the people I can really relate to.

Herbert: Didn't you know her in school?

Ethel: No, me and uh--

Ethel: No, she was here not to long ago?

Herbert: Uh-huh.

Ethel: Oh lord, G-d cares, whatever her name was. Whatever her name is, she's a minister now. Anyway, they were called the Imperials.

Group: Oh.


Ethel: Those are the ones that I relate to.

Herbert: You don't know about them.

Jhanelle: Oh yes, that one I know. (Laughter)

Ethel: She said “Oh yes.”

Jhanelle: That one I know.

Herbert: She's a little baby over there.

Ethel: They young, but they track back and go back.

Jhanelle: That's right. I mean I do all of them; Billie Holiday, all of them.

Herbert: Our daughter's that way.

Ethel: See that. Yeah, same way.

Herbert: See that's all I ever played and she could tell me things right now I've forgotten about. “Dad, you remember so and so.” She
called me the other day going ... “No” “You used to play it all the time.” And I've forgotten.

Ethel: Yeah, she loves it. She's like she is. Go back on that old music, but I do really do respect those performers. I really respect them for what they went through.

Herbert: Yeah, it was very hard.

Ethel: I really respect them. Those type of singers are not really, they're not her anymore. That's the truth, because what come forward now is a whole different era and type of music and that's just what it is.


Nerlie: The singers around that time, did you feel most of the time that when they were delivering the song that they were testifying the words of the song, compared to now when we feel that it's just a performance.

Ethel: Right, that's what it's like. Back then you felt it when they sang --and you would relate to it. But today, you look at today as just entertainment.

Herbert: And they don't have a lot of, they supposed to be singing, they talking a song. Voices have to be cultivated. They may have good voices, but they don't know how to use them. A lot of screaming in there.


Ethel: Yelling is the way. Just like I said you have to have your voice cultivated.

Tracey: Can I take a picture of you two?

Minute 44-46: Discussion ensues about picture and project and wrapping up of interview.