Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington was billed as being the "Queen of the Blues."  She knew how to turn a phrase and make you believe what she was singing about.  Whether it was the seriousness of "Willow Weep for Me" or the sassiness of " Salty Papa Blues," Dinah knew how to sing.

Dinah Washington was born Ruth Jones, August 29, 1924 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She moved to Chicago when she was three years old and began singing in the church.  She toured churches until the 1930's and often played the piano at St. Luke's Baptist Church in Chicago.  In 1939/40, she sang with one of the most acclaimed gospel singers, Salle Martin, where she toured the gospel circuit with the Sallie Martin Gospel Singers.

Although Dinah was deep into gospel music, after winning a talent contest at the age of 15 at the Regal Theatre in Chicago, she began singing in local nightclubs.  While touring with Sallie Martin, she had the opportunity to audition for jazz band leader Lionel Hampton.  Lionel Hampton grabbed the young singer, changed her name (although this is a subject of debate) and helped to make her a star.  She toured with Lionel from 1943 to 1946.  Dinah then embarked on her solo career and "became known as the best jazz and blues singer of the age." (Alabama Music Hall of Fame, 1986)

Dinah's biggest single and signature song is "What a Difference a Day Makes." She also recorded: "Evil Gal Blues," "Muddy Water,"  "Trouble in Mind," "Maybe I'm a Fool," " I Wanna Be Loved" and so many more heart-felt  (and even raunchy!  Check out "Long John Blues" - I would like to make an appointment with that dentist.:-)  songs.  To me, one of the most amazing recordings  and display of vocal versatility is Dinah's "Lover Where Can You Be."   In her delivery, you can hear her gospel roots as she belts out a phrase and/or adds the proper melismatic touch, giving the listener "goose bumps." She also performed a series of duets with Brook Benton, including "Baby,You've Got What it Takes."

Dinah was married reportedly nine times (although these are not all confirmed!) and had two children.

Like so many others, Dinah Washington died too young in 1963 after an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in Detroit, MI.

Dinah Washington is one of my favorite singers of all time.  Her phrasing and dedication to "telling the story" is unequaled.  She was a direct descendent of the "Bessie Smiths" and "Ma Raineys" of the Classic Blues age.  Do yourself a favor and take a listen to the music of Dinah Washington.  You are in for a treat.

Lea Gilmore

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Dinah Washington


©1998 Lea A. Gilmore and P.W. Fenton, All Rights Reserved.