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Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington

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One of the first great crossover artists, Dinah Washington was a popular jazz singer who made equally successful ventures into R&B and pop. Born Ruth Jones in Alabama and raised in Chicago, she grew up singing gospel in church and turned professional after winning a talent contest at age 15. Three years later she had a regular gig at Chicago's Garrick Bar, performing in its upstairs room while Billie Holiday sang downstairs. Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton came to see her here and hired her to his band, where she stayed for three years; he is also credited with giving her stage name. Soon after joining Hampton she cut her own debut, "Evil Gal Blues." This and its equally bawdy followup, "Salty Papa Blues" were both hits and eventually led to her leaving Hampton's band in 1946. Washington's brassy and imposing voice, and her musical versatility, became the keys to her style and success. Signing to Mercury that year, she initially hit with Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and continued a run of hits that lasted until the early '60s. Though still primarily a jazz artist, she recorded in various genres including pop (the standard "Harbor Lights") and country (Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart"). She also...

One of the first great crossover artists, Dinah Washington was a popular jazz singer who made equally successful ventures into R&B and pop. Born Ruth Jones in Alabama and raised in Chicago, she grew up singing gospel in church and turned professional after winning a talent contest at age 15. Three years later she had a regular gig at Chicago's Garrick Bar, performing in its upstairs room while Billie Holiday sang downstairs. Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton came to see her here and hired her to his band, where she stayed for three years; he is also credited with giving her stage name. Soon after joining Hampton she cut her own debut, "Evil Gal Blues." This and its equally bawdy followup, "Salty Papa Blues" were both hits and eventually led to her leaving Hampton's band in 1946. Washington's brassy and imposing voice, and her musical versatility, became the keys to her style and success. Signing to Mercury that year, she initially hit with Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and continued a run of hits that lasted until the early '60s. Though still primarily a jazz artist, she recorded in various genres including pop (the standard "Harbor Lights") and country (Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart"). She also had success in the "dirty blues" genre, with suggestive records that were often sold "under the table" at stores: "Big Long Slidin' Thing" and "TV Is the Thing This Year" respectively built double-entendres out of a trombone and the television dial. Her albums often featured the jazz side of her repertoire; the 1964 album Dinah Jams found her in the company of Max Roach, Clifford Brown and other notables. She debuted at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955 and played there over the next four years. 1959 brought her first full-fledged pop hit, What a Diff'rence a Day Makes," which led to a string of smoother, orchestrated records for the pop market; these weren't always appreciated by her original fans. But she also cut a rock & roll song with Brook Benton ("A Rockin' Good Way to Mess Around and Fall in Love") which went Top Ten in 1960. And her last charted single, 1963's "Soulville," was in a Ray Charles-styled gospel/soul vein. Washington's personal life was often troubled. She was married seven times and once fired her fifth husband, saxophonist Eddie Chamblee, during a performance. An overdose of diet pills mixed with alcohol caused her death at age 39.

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 Crescendo (1957) Guest
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