From Rhythm & Blues To Pop Ballads
Dinah Washington Was A Crossover Super Star

One of the most versatile and gifted vocalists in American popular music history, Dinah Washington made extraordinary recordings in jazz, blues, R&B and light pop contexts, and could have done the same in gospel had she chosen to record in that mode. But the former Ruth Jones didn't believe in mixing the secular and spiritual, and once she'd entered the non-religious music world professionally, refused to include gospel in her repertorie. 

Washington's penetrating, high-pitched voice, incredible sense of drama and timing, crystal clear enunciation and equal facility
with sad, bawdy, celebratory or rousing material enabled her to sing any and everything with distinction. Washington played piano and directed her church choir growing up in Chicago. For a while she did split her time between clubs and singing and playing piano in Salle Martin 's gospel choir as Ruth Jones . There's some dispute about the origin of her name. Some sources say the manager of the Garrick Stage Bar gave her the name Dinah Washington ; other say it was Hampton who selected it. It is undisputed Hampton heard and was impressed by Washington , who'd been discovered by manager Joe Glaser . She worked in Hampton 's band from 1943 to 1946. Some of her biggest R&B
hits were written by Leonard Feather , the distinguished critic who was a successful composer in the '40s.

Washington dominated the R&B charts in the late '40s and '50s, but also did straight jazz sessions for EmArcy and Mercury, with horn accompanists including Clifford Brown , Clark Terry and Maynard Ferguson, and pianists Wynton Kelly , a young Joe Zawinul and Andrew Hill. She wanted to record what she liked, irregardless of whether it was considered suitable, and in today's market would be a crossover superstar.   "What A Difference A Day Makes." From that point forward nearly all of her recordings were slow ballads with accompaniment from faceless orchestras that would not have been out of place on a country record! 

Although she did have a few more hits (including some duets with Brook Benton), Washington's post-1958 output has not dated well at all, unlike the music from her first 15 years of recordings. 

However she was only 39 and still in peak musical form when she died from an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol in 1963. Dinah Washington remains the biggest influence on most black female singers (particularly in r&b and soul) who have come to prominence since the mid-1950's. 

Virtually all of her recordings are currently in print on CD's including a massive reissue series of her Mercury and EmArcy sessions. By -- Ron Wynn and Dan Morgenste, All-Music Guide
 


 
 
 
 

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