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Dinah Washington
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Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington (August 29, 1924 – December 14, 1963) was a blues, R&B and jazz singer. Because of her strong voice and emotional singing, she is known as the "Queen of the Blues". Despite dying at the early age of 39, Washington became one of the most influential vocalists of the twentieth century, credited among others as a major influence on Aretha Franklin. She is a 1986 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

Early life

Washington was born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her family moved to Chicago while she was still a child. As a child in Chicago she played piano and directed her church choir. She later studied in Walter Dyett's renowned music program at DuSable High School. At 16 as Ruth Jones, she toured the United States' black gospel circuit with Roberta Martin accompanying her at the piano.[6] There was a period when she both performed in clubs as Dinah Washington while singing and playing piano in Sallie Martin's gospel choir as Ruth Jones.

Her penetrating voice, excellent timing and crystal-clear enunciation added her own distinctive style to every piece she performed. While making extraordinary recordings in jazz, blues, R&B and light pop contexts, Washington refused to record gospel music despite her obvious talent in singing it. She believed it wrong to mix the secular and the spiritual, and after she had entered the non-religious professional music world she refused to include gospel in her repertoire. She began performing as a teenager in 1942 and soon joined Lionel Hampton's band. There is some dispute about the origin of her name. Some sources say the manager of the Garrick Stage Bar gave her the name Dinah Washington, while others say Hampton selected it.

Rise and fall

In 1943, she began recording for Keynote Records and released the 12-bar blues "Evil Gal Blues", her first hit. She then switched to Chicago-based Mercury Records and from 1948 to 1955, she had numerous hits on the R&B charts, including "Am I Asking Too Much", "Baby, Get Lost," "Trouble in Mind", ""I Won't Cry Anymore", "TV is The Thing This Year", "Teach Me Tonight" and a cover of Hank Williams's "Cold, Cold Heart". In March 1957, she married tenor saxophonist Eddie Chamblee (formerly on tour with Lionel Hampton), who led the band behind her. In 1958 she made a well-received appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

With "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" in 1959, Washington won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance. The song was her first top ten hit in the Pop charts, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, although most of her releases had reached the R & B Top Ten.

The commercially driven album of the same name, with its heavy reliance on strings and wordless choruses, was slammed by jazz and blues critics for being too commercial and for straying from her blues roots. Despite this, it was a huge success and from that point, Washington continued to favor more commercial, pop-oriented songs rather than traditional blues and jazz songs. Along with a string of other hits, she followed this with a new version of the 1952 hit for Nat 'King' Cole, "Unforgettable", which also sold well, reaching #17 Pop.

In 1960, she teamed up with another successful Mercury artist Brook Benton and the two had back-to-back top-10 hit duets with Brook Benton: "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" (U.S. #5) and "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall In Love)" (U.S. #7). Both hit the top spot on the R & B chart, "Baby" staying there for 10 weeks. Dinah scored a third R&B chart-topper the same year when her version of "This Bitter Earth" went all the way, also reaching #24 in the Hot 100. Her last major hit was "September in the Rain", which reached #23 in the USA, #35 in the UK, and #5 in the US R&B chart. In 1992, her 30-year-old version of Noel Coward's "Mad About the Boy" became a minor hit in the UK after being used in a TV commercial. These later recordings were supervised by Mercury's in-house producer in New York City, Clyde Otis, who also produced Benton's long run of hits.

By mid-1962, Washington's solo records had stopped selling as well, scoring low positions (anywhere from 70 to the 90s) on the Billboard top 100 of that year. Considering that chart success was more difficult to grasp than before, she made the move to Roulette records. There she had a reasonable hit with the 2-sider "Where Are You" and "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You," but the records continued their low-scoring trend after that.

Dinah was well known for singing torch songs. Her rendition of the popular standard "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was well regarded. A 40-song box set of the same name was released in 1999.

Queen of the Blues

Washington was married seven times in the U.S., with an eighth wedding performed in Stockholm, Sweden, and divorced six times while having several lovers, including Quincy Jones, her young arranger. The legend that she wore mink in all weathers was debunked, but the one that she carried two .45-caliber pistols with her still circulates unchallenged. Although she had a reputation as imperious and demanding, many found her loving, funny, generous and forgiving. Audiences sensed this remarkable combination of qualities and loved her. In London she once declared, "...there is only one heaven, one earth and one queen...Queen Elizabeth is an impostor"; the crowd loved it.

About six months after her marriage to football player Dick "Night Train" Lane, she died, aged 39, from an accidental overdose of prescription diet pills mixed with alcohol. Washington, who was 5'2" (1.58 m) tall and had fought weight problems for most of her life, was dieting to lose weight before a New Year's Eve party.


In 2007, R&B platinum-selling singer Deborah Cox reinterpreted the classic songs of Dinah Washington on her fourth album Destination Moon.

A recent surge in popularity in 2008 can be credited to a promo being run by Doubletree Hotels which features "Relax Max", a catchy tune from The Swingin' Miss "D" album. Also in 2008, "Backwater Blues" and "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around And Fall In Love)" were included on the Nights in Rodanthe Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2003



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