Born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dinah Washington grew up in Chicago, where she sang and played piano in a Baptist church.
After winning a talent contest she joined the big-band of Lionel Hampton in 1943, and her bruising, insouciant delivery drew immediate attention.
She signed with Mercury Records in 1947, beginning a 15-year association marked by Washington’s ease with a panoply of musical styles. A yearly series of hits established her as the top female rhythm and blues artist during the first half of the 50s.
Washington was actually the most versatile and influential singer of the 1950s. She was as comfortable with swinging jazz as she was with pop, show tunes or down and dirty rhythm and blues.
Dinah had to wait until 1959 to score a pop-chart crossover hit, with the sublime What A Diff’rence A Day Makes.
More pop hits followed over the next three years: Unforgettable, September In The Rain, This Bitter Earth and her successful duets with Brook Benton, Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes) and A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall In Love).
She may have been called ‘The Queen of the Blues’, but Dinah Washington’s immense talent cannot be pigeon-holed. Her nickname was true in that everything she touched shared the emotion and sincerity of the blues.
Dinah Washington died in 1963 after accidentally combining alcohol and sleeping pills. She was just 37.
She was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.