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Dinah Washington

American Born 29 Aug 1924 Died 14 Dec 1963

Dinah Washington (August 29, 1924 – December 14, 1963) an American blues, jazz, and gospel singer. Because of her strong voice and emotional singing, she is known as the "Queen of the Blues".

Washington was born Ruth Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; her family moved to Chicago while she was still a child. As she was growing up in Chicago, she played piano and directed her church choir. Later, she studied in Walter Dyett's renowned music program at DuSable High School. For a while, she split her time between performing in clubs as Dinah Washington while and singing and playing piano in Salle 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 undertook. 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 spiritual, and once she had entered the non-religious music world professionally, she refused to include gospel in her repertoire.

Washington began performing 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; others say it was Hampton who selected it.

In 1943, she began recording for Keynote Records and released "Evil Gal Blues", her first hit. By 1955, she had released numerous hit songs on the R&B charts, including "Baby, Get Lost", "Trouble in Mind", "You Don't Know What Love Is" (arranged by Quincy Jones), and a cover of "Cold, Cold Heart" by Hank Williams. In 1958 she made a well-received appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

With "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" 1959, Washington won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance; the song was her biggest hit, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The commercially driven album of the same name, with its heavily reliance on strings and non-vocal choruses, was slammed by jazz and blues critics as being far too commercial, not keeping with her blues roots. Despite this, the album was a huge success and 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 "September In The Rain", which reached number 35 in the UK in November 1961 and #23 in the US. In 1960, she also had two top 10 hit duets with Brook Benton: "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" and "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall In Love)". She also dealt in torch songs; her rendition of The Platters' "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" was well-regarded.

What set Dinah Washington apart from her contemporaries was her extraordinary diction and phrasing. To this day, there hasn't been an equal, although many have tried to recreate the Dinah Washington experience. Her voice can still invoke a chill in many a modern listener.

She was married seven times, and divorced six times while having several lovers, including Quincy Jones, her young arranger. She was known to be imperious and demanding in real life, but audiences loved her. In London she once declared, "...there is only one heaven, one earth and one queen...Queen Elizabeth is an impostor", but the crowd loved it.

During her marriage to football player Dick "Night Train" Lane, she died from an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol at the age of 39 in 1963. She is interred in the Burr Oak Cemetery, Alsip, Illinois.

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