As a child Ruth Lee Jones sang in church before starting to sing in local clubs. Her distinctive voice, rich with emotion through which gleamed a steely core, caught the ear of Lionel Hampton who hired her, gave her a new name, Dinah Washington, and brought her to the attention of an international audience. Through the 50s, now a solo act, she flirted with R&B but remained true to her own gospel- and blues-based jazz style. This was before soul, but her records of the era show that she was clearly a forerunner of the style. She had several hit records, including successful duets with Brook Benton and also appeared at clubs, concert halls and festivals, the latter including the Newport Jazz Festival, where her performance was captured in the film, Jazz On A Summer's Day (1958). Washington's success allowed her to live a regal style that led to excesses with drugs and drink and especially men; she was married eight (possibly nine) times. She died from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. Although not having followers in the strictest sense, Washington's powerful, highly charged and wholly distinctive singing style has inspired hundreds of singers in the past half century, although none has matched her inimitable talent.
Influenced By: Alison Moyet, Annie Lennox...