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
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