#TBT to this live performance of “Suppertime” by Irving Berlin sung by Ethel Waters. As described in Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, the song was originally written for the 1933 Broadway musical As Thousands Cheer. A musical revue that satirized the news and lives of the rich and famous, As Thousands Cheer was the first Broadway show to give an African American star, Ethel Waters, equal billing alongside the white actors.
Opening at the Berlin’s own Music Box Theatre in 1933, As Thousands Cheer poked fun at public figures such President Hoover, Barbara Hutton, Gandhi, John D. Rockefeller, and Noël Coward, among others. The show also covered current events ripped from the headlines, including the lynching attacks on African Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War. “Suppertime,” an African-American woman’s lament for her lynched husband, has since been recorded and performed live by Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Audra McDonald, and Barbra Streisand, among others.
As described in Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, when the white cast members of As Thousands Cheer initially refused to take a final bow with Ethel Waters, Berlin himself declared that if Waters was not included in the final curtain call, no cast members would take a bow. To keep costs at a minimum, Berlin refused his own fee as composer, lyricist, and theater owner. The show proved to be a smashing success, running for 400 performances on Broadway, a rare feat for a musical during the Great Depression.
Check out this live performance “Suppertime” by the great Waters herself: