Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14: The "Queen of the Blues," Dinah Washington, died on this date in 1963...

... she was only 39 years old when she passed away.

In her very, very short life, Dinah became one of the most influential vocalists of the twentieth century, credited with being a major influence on Aretha Franklin. Likewise, Dinah often gave credit to Bessie Smith - The Empress of Blues- as influencing her.

 She was born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in August 1924 (her exact birth date is uncertain). When she was three, her family moved to Chicago. Ruth received her first musical instruction at home, learning to sing and play the piano from her mother. By her teens, she was a well-known gospel singer at the St. Luke’s Baptist Church.

 After winning a talent contest, Jones started performing in local clubs when she was only 16 years old.  In 1940, she returned to religious music when gospel singer Sallie Martin hired her as her pianist.

With Lionel Hampton
Two years later, Jones went back to the nightclub circuit, playing piano at the Three Deuces, a Chicago jazz club where her idol Billie Holiday was performing. There, she was spotted by bandleader Lionel Hampton, who hired her as his vocalist. Hampton later claimed that he gave Jones the stage name Dinah Washington.

(Continued below video and Amazon portal ...)

HIGHLY Recommended (Press album covers for direct links to Amazon):

The Fabulous Miss D: The Keynote, Decca, & Mercury Singles 1943-1953Back to Blues (Ain't Nothin But a Woman Cryin For)The Best of Dinah Washington - 20th Century Masters: Millennium CollectionSmoke Gets in Your Eyes

Dinah was quickly becoming known for her trademark voice and the emotion it evoked. While singing with Hampton’s band, Washington began recording blues songs.

In 1943, her “Evil Gal Blues” and “Salty Papa Blues” were hits with African-American audiences. Two years later, “Blowtop Blues”—the only song she recorded with Hampton—made her a star of rhythm and blues. After going solo in 1945, Washington was signed by Mercury Records, which would remain her label for 15 years.

While a Mercury artist, she recorded more than 400 songs for the burgeoning urban blues market. With records such as “Long John Blues” (1947) and “Trouble in Mind” (1952), she was considered by many to be the successor of blues great and one of her idols, Bessie Smith.

Washington, however, was able to sing almost any type of song; she even had great success with covers of Broadway show tunes and even had a country hit with a cover of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart” (1952).

Capitalizing on her talent and "can do" spirit, Washington also developed a reputation as a jazz artist. On songs such as “Lover, Come Back to Me,” she had a fruitful collaboration with pianist Wynton Kelly, which some compared to the working relationship between Holiday and Lester Young.

Washington frequently performed at jazz clubs and festivals. Her triumphant appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 was recorded in the concert film  Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959).  That same year, she won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance. With "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes."

For most of her recording career, Washington’s music was sold nearly exclusively to African Americans. In 1959, however, she broke into the larger mainstream market with “What a Diff ’rence a Day Makes.” In addition to hitting the top 10 on the R&B charts, the record won a Grammy Award. The next year, Washington had three crossover hits. With fellow Mercury artist Brook Benton, she sang the duets “Baby, You’ve Got What it Takes” and “A Rockin’ Good Way,” while on her own she had a number-one hit with the mournful love song, “This Bitter Earth.”

Jazz On A Summer's DayTwo of UsEndlessly--The Best Of Brook Benton

On- and offstage, she had a flamboyant style. She loved tight dresses and mink coats and enjoyed shocking people with her rough language.

Dinah was She was 5'2" tall and had fought weight problems for most of her life, and at the time of her death was trying to lose weight. Very early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Dinah's eighth husband, NFL player Dick "Night Train" Lane went to sleep with his wife and awoke later to find Dinah slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital mixed with alcohol which contributed to her untimely death at the age of 39.

In 1986 Dinah was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.


No comments: