“Dinah Washington,” mixed media, Sophisticated Ladies — The Great Women of Jazz, Dutton Children’s Books, 2006 by Martin French
With respects to Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughn, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Billy Holiday and all the other amazing ladies of Jazz, today we highlight Dinah Washington.
Although she was known as the “Queen of the Blues,” Dinah Washington did it all! Blues, jazz, R&B—she even covered country songs. She became one of the most influential vocalists of the twentieth century, credited as a major influence on Aretha Franklin.
Dinah began recording in 1943 for Keynote Records and released “Evil Gal Blues,” which became her first hit. She then switched to Chicago-based Mercury Records and from 1948 to 1955, she had many hits on the newly named “R&B” charts, including “Am I Asking Too Much”, “Baby, Get Lost,” “Trouble in Mind“, “”I Won’t Cry Anymore”, “TV is The Thing This Year”, “Teach Me Tonight” and a cover of country crooner Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart”. In 1958 she made a well-received appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival and the following year, she won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance for “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.”
Washington was married seven times in the states, with an eighth wedding in Stockholm, Sweden, and divorced six times while having many lovers, including Quincy Jones!
In his 2001 biography Q, Quincy said this about Dinah’s style:
“She could take the melody in her hand, hold it like an egg, crack it open, fry it, let it sizzle, reconstruct it, put the egg back in the box and back in the refrigerator and you would’ve still understood every single syllable.”
There were rumors that the glamorous Dinah wore mink in all weathers and one that she carried two .45-caliber pistols with her. She had a reputation of being demanding but many found her loving, funny, generous and forgiving.
More on the life of Dinah Washington after the jump, including video clips from an amazing BBC film about the singer, with an appearance by Amy Winehouse!
Audiences loved her. In London she once declared, “…there is only one heaven, one earth and one queen…Queen Elizabeth is an impostor”; the crowd loved it.
After only being married six months to football player Dick “Night Train” Lane, Dinah died at age 39, from an accidental overdose of prescription diet pills mixed with alcohol. Washington, who stood 5’2″, had fought weight “problems” for most of her life. She was dieting to lose weight before a New Year’s Eve party.
Below is a great performance of Dinah singing a Bessie Smith tune. Listen to the lyrics:
Dinah Washington Documentary 01
Dinah Washington Documentary 02
Dinah Washington Documentary 03
For a closer look at Dinah Washington, please visit the following links:
- LA 12/10: BEAT SWAPMEET
- M.I.S.S. TV: We Got the Beat–NSR
- M.I.S.S. Playlist: A Case of The Browns
- M.I.S.S. In The Mix: J Dilla x Stussy
- FL 4/23: Cyndi Lauper Exclusive Album Premiere