Born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien on 16 April 1939, Dusty Springfield was best known for her 1960s’ hits Son of A Preacher Man, I Only Want To Be With You and You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.
Her early music career included a stint in The Lana Sisters and a folk group (The Springfields) which she formed with her brother Tom and their friend, Tim Feild, but it was her decision to go solo in 1963 which really put her on the music map.
Her beehive hairdo and panda eye make-up gave her an instantly recognisable image on both sides of the Atlantic where she had a string of top ten hits.
She then released a clone of I Only Want To Be With You called Stay A While. It faltered at #13. In July she excelled herself with a version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, which reached #3.
Meanwhile, Wishin’ and Hopin’ became a Top Ten single in the US, leaving The Merseybeats to enjoy a British #13 hit with the song.
In December 1964, Dusty embarked on a tour of South Africa on the proviso that her performances would be for non-segregated audiences only. A clause to this effect was written into her contract, yet when she was due to appear in Cape Town she discovered the audience was segregated and refused to perform. She was placed under house arrest before being deported.
Dusty spent much of 1965 touring Britain and recording the album, Everything’s Coming Up Dusty. Her first single for 1966 was Little By Little which stalled at #17, but the follow-up, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, topped the charts, also charting Top Five in the USA.
Dusty decamped to Memphis in 1968, filled with the desire to make adult soul music in the image of her heroes at Motown and Stax. Her soulful voice, at once strident and vulnerable, set her apart from contemporaries Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black, and earned her the title “White Queen of Soul”.
In 1972, after refusing to follow her female contemporaries onto the British club circuit, she moved to California, where she disappeared into a haze of drugs and alcohol.
“There is a sadness there in my voice,” Dusty said in 1973. “I don’t know why, it didn’t grow on me. I was born with it. Comes with being Irish-Scottish. Automatically melancholy and mad at the same time.”
In 1987 she enjoyed renewed success – after a seventeen-year absence from the music charts – with the Pet Shop Boys‘ What Have I Done To Deserve This? The single was a worldwide hit and brought Dusty to a whole new generation of fans.
Bisexual herself, she was adored by the gay community. In 1998 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and she was awarded an OBE in the 1999 New Year’s Honours list.
Few singers could match the versatility of her voice. Powerful, husky and evocative, it defied one to not to listen and earned Dusty Springfield a well-deserved place in rock history.
Yet she was beset by a sense of inferiority to her black peers, such as Aretha Franklin. These demons eventually drove her to alcoholism and self-harm, tragically unable to appreciate the exquisite beauty of her own talent.
Dusty Springfield died at her home in Henley-On-Thames on 2 March 1999 from breast cancer first detected in 1994. She was 59.