a billy graham center archives exhibit
back to
click to return to Introduction 2nd item on
exhibit index
other links
Audio clip of from an oral history interview with Ethel Waters in which she talks about her memories of the 1957 crusade and her impressions of Billy Graham. She was often a soloist at this and later crusades. Waters was interviewed by Dr. Lois Ferm of the BGEA in October, 1970. 10 minutes.
item 103: from Collection 141, audio tape T116 and box 5, folder 41

ETHEL WATERS: It all began when I made a chance remark while I was appearing on the Tex and Jinx Falkenburg TV program. Someone asked me about how did I feel the Billy Graham Crusade would go, public-wise, in New York City. I said what I seriously believe, but what may sound a little flippant, that, "It is going to be a success because God didn't sponsor no flops." And when I made that remark, why some of the Team members happened to hear it and they called me and asked if I cared to be invited to the meetings. I was so awe inspired that I graciously accepted. The result was, that same night I went there and found that it was a fulfillment of something I had been seeking for years. I was converted when I was twelve years old and naturally, in all honesty, I strayed away. But when you once give your life to our precious Savior, you get away from Him, but He's there; it's just that you don't recognize it. But you're lonely; fame, fortune and success, nothing is the satisfaction of something that happens in your life when Christ first enters into it. I am deviating a little bit, I want to bring you up to this.

DR. LOIS FERM: That's all right.

from Collection 141, box 5, folder 41

WATERS: I still say I wish I could get back to something I missed. I would backgap. The night I walked into Madison Square Garden, back in 1957, 1 was a church-going person. To be honest with you, I was one of those kind of I guess, "funny-people,"--and I still am--about certain things that I don't like to see going on in churches. They might say I - am old-fashioned. There was a lot of it going on then so it's nothing new; it's just handed down. When I walked in Madison Square Garden--where I had appeared so many times--and sang, the atmosphere was calm. It was a picture I'll never forget. It is one of God's "Rembrandts." When the people sang, "This is my Story," I just felt, I imagine, like the prodigal son would have felt. I had never met Billy--but that's the thing that people don't realize, I had been listening to this precious child, for years before 1957, on radio. You know so many people get the wrong concept about that darling boy; they think he stepped into that. He earned it each step of the way; he's been to the school of Christian hard knocks.

FERM: It's very true.

WATERS: He's been on the corners, and he's been in the limelight, and he's been abused. And that precious girl, Ruth, and all the close members of the Team, they know what hard times are; they know what it is to be without.

FERM: Absolutely.

WATERS: So many of them now, the "Johnny-come-latelys," they stepped in on the mountain top while the others came through the valley.

FERM: We understand, because Bob's been with Billy off and on for twenty years now.
WATERS: That's what I understand. You see, I know what I am talking about. Billy is God's chosen one because when the Lord makes up his mind, he chooses us. We don't realize it, but when he wants us, you can't keep away from him. He's going to keep at you in a peculiar sort of way so that nothing satisfies you. He's going to take you back to him.

FERM: Right.

WATERS: There was something that attracted my attention so when I would listen to this precious boy on the radio, I didn't always listen, but I was looking for the flaw, believe me.
FERM: Did you think of him as an actor at that time?

WATERS: No, when I first heard him there was something about him that sounded so good; it sounded so real. But I had been fooled before. And then the next thing I had against him: he was white. I didn't think any white preacher could be that good. Now, I'm not a militant, never was one and can't stand them. Then he was young; I didn't know that then until I had seen him on TV a long time ago, coming out from Minneapolis. When I heard him, I said to myself--I'd listen to him avidly-- "He's the middle man." He's more like our Savior who spoke to the person with a minimum amount of understanding. He's not an intellectual preacher because God put it on the line for everybody to understand.

FERM: That's right. A child can understand him.

WATERS:- That's the way Billy is. And there are so many people who study just big words and they don't know themselves what they are saying. There's nothing wrong with c-a-t is cat. That's why I always have loved im; when he says a thing you understand it. If people of today understand then they can grasp it and react to it, but if you don't understand it you usually resent it-or ignore it.

FERM: You think this is the secret of his preaching?

WATERS: That's his gift. And then there's something compelling: God speaks through him. You can tell his voice is compelling, and that wasn't acquired; that wasn't got in no seminary, God gave it to him, and no one can take it from him. He is one of God's children.

FERM: This is true.

WATERS: I know it and I wouldn't say it because I know him; I’d say it when I met him, and I don't speak alone. I like people that are outspoken. There are so many others who think differently because they want to. When he is preaching like that, the seed falls on people; you know, when you tramp on somebody's corns, they are going to resent it because they are not big enough or humble enough to correct it and make it right. That's one of the things I have found out about my precious Jesus. I have now got to the place where he has brought me so low as far as my own affairs are, that I am like putty, and anything that is amiss in my life I let the Lord clean up. And then I find that the rest of it doesn't mean a thing. But you've got to be obedient to Him. Once, you can admit it's you yourself that is at fault, that's the only time He can get in. When I went in there [Madison Square Garden] that night I went in there just like anybody else would go. I wanted to see, and I was so far from Him. And then another thing that my precious Jesus does, he uses certain ones; I wasn't the only one. There were plenty of them that shelled out, I know they did that night. So many times, sitting on that platform like I do at night, I notice that Billy has a way, in his illustrations, of bringing up the very things that you have been harboring in your mind, and is the answer to your very questions, which gives God all the credit all the time

back to
© 2005 Wheaton College and © 2005 BGEA