Dinah Washington Biography

Dinah Washington

(Ruth Lee Jones)
Born: 8/29/1924
Birthplace: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Known for her gritty vocal style, the beloved but controversial singer was at home with R&B, blues, jazz, and middle-of-the-road pop. Washington was raised in Chicago where she played the piano and directed her church choir. At age 15, she began performing in nightclubs, joining Lionel Hampton's band in 1943. Hampton claims he gave her the name Dinah Washington. While with the band she had her first hit, “Evil Gal Blues.” After 1946 she went solo and had a string of hits in the R&B charts, at the same time recording many straight jazz sessions, most memorably with Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley, and Clark Terry. She had a huge influence on R&B and jazz singers who followed her, notably Nancy Wilson, Esther Phillips, and Diane Schuur. Her breakthrough into the mainstream pop market came in 1959 with “What a Diff'rence a Day Makes.” For the rest of her career she concentrated on singing ballads backed by lush orchestrations, a move that drew fire from critics disappointed with her changeover to pop. Seven times married and struggling with weight problems, the singer's emotional life was always turbulent. Washington died at age 39 of an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol.

Died: Detroit, MI, 12/14/1963

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