HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Huntsville Museum of Art celebrated the beginning of Black History Month Thursday by unveiling their new African American History exhibit. Along with the exhibit, the museum also revealed a recently acquired portrait of famous jazz singer Ethel Waters. “She had a lot of firsts. She was well loved in her day and well loved all her life,” said Connie Wilson, the original owner of the portrait.
Waters was an incredible role model. “She wasn’t the first Academy nominated, but she was the second. She was the first black actor or actress in an all-white Broadway show,” Wilson said.
Waters was born in 1896 and was known for hit songs like ‘Stormy Weather’. The portrait of her, created by Luigi Lucuini, was the reason many gathered at the museum Thursday night. “Luigi met her in 1939 and that’s when he asked her to pose for him,” Luigi Lucioni Historian, Stuart Embury, said.
The portrait at one point was considered lost but was later traced back to Wilson’s home. “My dad was an associated evangelical with Dr. Billy Graham and Ethel met them during the 1957 New York Crusade,” Wilson explained.
Wilson considered Waters to be her adopted grandmother. The portrait meant so much to her, but she knew it needed to be seen by the masses. “If you do any studies of her you see what a remarkable person she was,” Wilson said.
“Her early life was really horrific, but she went on to become a famous actress, singer and good person,” Embury added.
Waters has paved the way for many African Americans by following her passion. For her to be front and center at the museum is a humbling feeling for many. “There’s a good story to be learned there. We should never give up on somebody,” Embury said.