By age 7 Ethel was being called the little girl with the big voice. Together with her mother, Augusta, and her brother, Jack, she and her family toured as the Pee Wee Minstrels. Their family name was originally Schutte. The father, Charles, was the manager. They also played in vaudeville as The Three Shuttas.
In 1929 she married band-leader George Olsen, with whom she had two children (her son George attended school with Hal Prince, who was later to cast Ethel in Follies). The couple appeared in clubs across the country, and were regulars on Jack Benny Canada Dry Radio Show. She signed off with the song Rock-a-Bye Moon. They divorced in 1936. She continued to work on her own as a singer, while her ex-husband opened a restaurant in New Jersey that used his own recordings as background music.
Shutta came back to Broadway in 1963 with Jennie, which starred Mary Martin. The show ran only 84 performances, and was generally considered unsuccessful.
Subsequent work was difficult to find, and Shutta used alcohol to get herself through the rough spots. Her final comeback was in her rôle as veteran actress Hattie Walker in 1971-1972. Ethel brought down the house each evening with Sondheim's "Broadway Baby" in the original production of Follies. Follies was staged at the Winter Garden Theater where she made her first Broadway appearance for the Shuberts in 1922.