Dinah Washington 1962.jpg
Washington in 1962
Birth name Ruth Lee Jones
Also known as Queen of the Blues
Queen of the Jukebox
Queen of Jam Sessions
Born August 29, 1924
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S.
Origin Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died December 14, 1963 (aged 39)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres Jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, traditional pop music
Instruments Vocals, piano, vibraphone
Years active 1941–63
Labels Keynote, Mercury,
Associated acts Lionel Hampton, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole
Dinah Washington (born Ruth Lee Jones; August 29, 1924 – December 14, 1963), was an American singer and pianist, who has been cited as "the most popular black female recording artist of the '50s". Primarily a jazz vocalist, she performed and recorded in a wide variety of styles including blues, R&B, and traditional pop music, and gave herself the title of "Queen of the Blues". She was a 1986 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
1 Life and career
4.1 As leader
4.2 As sideman
Life and career
portrait of Dinah Washington, 1952
portrait of Dinah Washington, 1952
Ruth Lee Jones was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Chicago as a child. She became deeply involved in gospel and played piano for the choir in St. Luke's Baptist Church while still in elementary school. She sang gospel music in church and played piano, directing her church choir in her teens and being a member of the Sallie Martin Gospel Singers. She sang lead with the first female gospel singers formed by Ms. Martin, who was co-founder of the Gospel Singers Convention. Her involvement with the gospel choir occurred after she won an amateur contest at Chicago's Regal Theater where she sang "I Can't Face the Music".
After winning a talent contest at the age of 15, she began performing in clubs. By 1941–42 she was performing in such Chicago clubs as Dave's Rhumboogie and the Downbeat Room of the Sherman Hotel (with Fats Waller). She was playing at the Three Deuces, a jazz club, when a friend took her to hear Billie Holiday at the Garrick Stage Bar. Club owner Joe Sherman was so impressed with her singing of "I Understand", backed by the Cats and the Fiddle, who were appearing in the Garrick's upstairs room, that he hired her. During her year at the Garrick – she sang upstairs while Holiday performed in the downstairs room – she acquired the name by which she became known. She credited Joe Sherman with suggesting the change from Ruth Jones, made before Lionel Hampton came to hear Dinah at the Garrick. Hampton's visit brought an offer, and Washington worked as his female band vocalist after she had sung with the band for its opening at the Chicago Regal Theatre.
She made her recording debut for the Keynote label that December with "Evil Gal Blues", written by Leonard Feather and backed by Hampton and musicians from his band, including Joe Morris (trumpet) and Milt Buckner (piano). Both that record and its follow-up, "Salty Papa Blues", made Billboard's "Harlem Hit Parade" in 1944.
She stayed with Hampton's band until 1946, after the Keynote label folded, signed for Mercury Records as a solo singer. Her first record for Mercury, a version of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'", was another hit, starting a long string of success. Between 1948 and 1955, she had 27 R&B top ten hits, making her one of the most popular and successful singers of the period. Both "Am I Asking Too Much" (1948) and "Baby Get Lost" (1949) reached Number 1 on the R&B chart, and her version of "I Wanna Be Loved" (1950) crossed over to reach Number 22 on the US pop chart. Her hit recordings included blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, and even a version of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" (R&B Number 3, 1951). At the same time as her biggest popular success, she also recorded sessions with many leading jazz musicians, including Clifford Brown and Clark Terry on the album Dinah Jams (1954), and also recorded with Cannonball Adderley and Ben Webster.
In 1959, she had her first top ten pop hit, with a version of "What a Diff'rence a Day Made", which made Number 4 on the US pop chart. Her band at that time included arranger Belford Hendricks, with Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Zawinul (piano), and Panama Francis (drums). She followed it up with a version of Irving Gordon's "Unforgettable", and then two highly successful duets in 1960 with Brook Benton, "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" (No. 5 Pop, No. 1 R&B) and "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)" (No. 7 Pop, No. 1 R&B). Her last big hit was "September in the Rain" in 1961 (No. 23 Pop, No. 5 R&B).
In the 1950s and early 60s before her death, Washington occasionally performed on the Las Vegas Strip. Tony Bennett said of Washington during a recording session with Amy Winehouse: "She was a good friend of mine, you know. She was great. She used to just come in with two suitcases in Vegas without being booked. And she'd just come in and put the suitcases down. And she'd say "I'm here, boss". And she'd stay as long as she wanted. And all the kids in all the shows on the Strip would come that night. They'd hear that she's in town and it would be packed just for her performance". According to Richard S. Ginell at AllMusic:
"[Washington] was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century – beloved to her fans, devotees, and fellow singers; controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop – and she probably would have made a fine gospel or country singer had she the time. Hers was a gritty, salty, high-pitched voice, marked by absolute clarity of diction and clipped, bluesy phrasing..."
Washington was well known for singing torch songs. In 1962, Dinah hired a male backing trio called the Allegros, consisting of Jimmy Thomas on drums, Earl Edwards on sax, and Jimmy Sigler on organ. Edwards was eventually replaced on sax by John Payne. A Variety writer praised their vocals as "effective choruses".
Washington's achievements included appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival (1955–59), the Randalls Island Jazz Festival in New York City (1959), and the International Jazz Festival in Washington D.C. (1962), frequent gigs at Birdland (1958, 1961–62), and performances in 1963 with Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Washington's seventh husband, football great Dick "Night Train" Lane, went to sleep with his wife, and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital, which contributed to her death at the age of 39. She is buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
Year Category Title Genre
1959 Best Rhythm & Blues Performance "What a Difference a Day Makes" R&B
Grammy Hall of Fame
Recordings by Dinah Washington were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."
Year Title Genre Label Year Inducted
1959 "Unforgettable" pop (single) Mercury 2001
1954 "Teach Me Tonight" R&B (single) Mercury 1999
1959 "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" traditional pop (single) Mercury 1998
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed a song of Dinah Washington as one of the songs that shaped rock and roll.
Year Title Genre
1953 "TV Is The Thing (This Year)" R&B
Honors and Inductions
Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington is a 1964 album recorded by Aretha Franklin as a tribute.
In 1993, the U.S. Post Office issued a Dinah Washington 29 cent commemorative postage stamp.
In 2005, the Board of Commissioners renamed a park, near where Washington had lived in Chicago in the 1950s, Dinah Washington Park in her honor.
In 2008, the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Washington's birthplace, renamed the section of 30th Avenue between 15th Street and Kaulton Park "Dinah Washington Avenue." The unveiling ceremony for the new name took place on March 12, 2009, with Washington's son Robert Grayson and three of her grandchildren, Tracy Jones, Tera Jones, and Bobby Hill Jr., in attendance.
On August 29, 2013, the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Washington's birthplace, dedicated the old Allen Jemison Hardware building, on the northwest corner of Greensboro Avenue and 7th Street (620 Greensboro Avenue) as the newly renovated Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center."
Year Title Result Notes
1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inducted Early Influences
1984 Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame Inducted
1950: Dinah Washington (MG-25060) (compilation of previous 78s)
1952: Dynamic Dinah! - The Great Voice of Dinah Washington (compilation of previous 78s)
1952: Blazing Ballads (Compilation)
1954: After Hours with Miss "D"
1954: Dinah Jams
1955: For Those in Love
1956: In the Land of Hi-Fi
1957: The Swingin' Miss "D"
1957: Dinah Washington Sings Fats Waller
1957: Music for a First Love
1958: Dinah Sings Bessie Smith
1958: Newport '58
1959: The Queen
1959: What a Diff'rence a Day Makes!
1960: The Two of Us (with Brook Benton)
1960: I Concentrate on You
1960: For Lonely Lovers
1961: September in the Rain
1962: Dinah '62
1962: In Love
1962: Drinking Again
1962: Tears and Laughter
1962: I Wanna Be Loved
1963: Back to the Blues
1963: Dinah '63
1963: This Is My Story
1964: In Tribute
1964: Dinah Washington (SR-25269) (Compilation)
1967: Dinah Discovered
2004: The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury (7 x 3-CDs, PolyGram, 1987–1989)
2004: The Complete Roulette Dinah Washington Sessions (5-CDs, Mosaic Records)
With Clifford Brown
Jam Session (EmArcy, 1954) – with Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry – appears on one track
Year Song Peak chart positions
US CB Pop US R&B UK
1944 "Salty Papa Blues" 8
"Evil Gal Blues" 9
1946 "Blow-Top Blues"(with Lionel Hampton) 21 5
1948 "Ain't Misbehavin'" 6
"West Side Baby" 7
"Walkin' and Talkin' (And Crying My Blues Away)" 13
"I Want to Cry" 11
"Resolution Blues" 15
"Am I Asking Too Much" 1
"It's Too Soon To Know" 2
1949 "You Satisfy" 8
"Baby Get Lost" 1
"Good Daddy Blues" 9
"Long John Blues" 3
1950 "I Only Know" 3
"It Isn't Fair" 5
"I Wanna Be Loved" 22 5
"I'll Never Be Free" 3
"Time Out For Tears" 6
1951 "Harbor Lights" 10
"My Heart Cries for You" 7
"I Won't Cry Anymore" 6
"Cold, Cold Heart" 3
1952 "Wheel of Fortune" 3
"Tell Me Why" 7
"Trouble in Mind" 4
"New Blowtop Blues" 5
1953 "TV Is the Thing (This Year)" 3
"Fat Daddy" 10
1954 "I Don't Hurt Anymore" 3
"Teach Me Tonight" 23 4
1955 "I Concentrate on You" 11
"I Diddle" 14
"If It's the Last Thing I Do" 13
"That's All I Want from You" 8
"You Might Have Told Me" 14
1956 "I'm Lost Without You Tonight" 13
"Soft Winds" 13
1958 "Make Me a Present of You" 27
"Never Again" 74
1959 "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" 8 4 4
"Unforgettable" 17 8 15
1960 "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" (with Brook Benton) 5 2 1
"It Could Happen to You" 53 47
"A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)" (with Brook Benton) 7 5 1
"This Bitter Earth" 24 23 1
"Love Walked In" 30 18 16
"We Have Love" 76 51
"Looking Back" 92
1961 "Early Every Morning" 95 75
"Do You Want It That Way" 121
"Our Love Is Here To Stay" 89 70
"September in the Rain" 23* 19 5 35
1962 "Tears and Laughter" 71* 56
"Dream" (new version of 1954 hit) 92 92
"Such a Night" 109
"I Want to Be Loved" (new version of 1950 hit) 76 109
"Am I Blue" 110
"Cold, Cold Heart" (new version of 1951 hit) 96 140
"Where Are You?" 36* 38
"You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You" 87
"For All We Know" 88 tag
"I Wouldn't Know (What To Do)" 93 112
"You're a Sweetheart" 98
1963 "Soulville" 92 126
1964 "A Stranger On Earth" 136
1992 "Mad About the Boy" 41
"September In the Rain", "Tears and Laughter" and "Where Are You" also made the AC charts (nos. 5, 17 and 11 respectively)