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Profile: Ruth Brown

By

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown

source: soulwalking.co.uk

Born:

Ruth Alston Weston, January 12, 1928, Portsmouth, VA; d. November 17, 2006, Las Vegas, NV

Genres:

R&B, Rock and roll, Jazz, Blues

Instruments:

Vocals

Contributions to music:

  • The first black female to achieve sustained success in R&B
  • One of the first R&B stars to directly cross over to rock and roll
  • A direct vocal influence on Little Richard
  • A powerful and pioneering divalike presence that profoundly influenced generations of female vocalists
  • Equally adept at R&B, blues, rock, and jazz
  • Helped co-found the Rhythm and Blues Organization in the Eighties in order to help her peers collect back royalties owed them
  • Crossed over on to the Broadway stage with great success in the late Eighties

Early years:

Ruth Brown's story plays like a Hollywood movie: a Southern girl trained in gospel, she was as influenced by Billie Holiday as she was by Mahalia Jackson, so she ran away from home at 17 to marry a jazz trumpeter (Jimmy Brown, who performed with Ruth as Brown and Brown). But Brown was already married, as it turns out, and Ruth soon found herself stranded in Washington, DC. She sang at the Crystal Caverns club there for one week in order to earn bus fare home, but she was a hit, so on she stayed. Local DJ Willis Conover soon brought her to the attention of the fledgling Atlantic label.

Success:

Atlantic had been primarily a jazz label, but wanted to branch out into the popular R&B fad, and so they groomed Brown as their ticket in. It worked; although Brown was sidelined from her first session for nine months due to a car accident, that session yielded an instant Top Ten R&B hit with 1949's "So Long." Brown followed that with almost two dozen charting R&B hits over the next decade. When rock and roll came along, she made the transition, singing a Bobby Darin composition called "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'" and scoring a pop hit with "Lucky Lips." As R&B mutated into soul, however, Brown fell from favor.

Later years:

The Sixties found Brown out of the business entirely, broke and working as a maid. But when comedian and friend Redd Foxx shot into the mainstream in the '70s, he brought Brown with him, and she became active in Broadway, television sitcoms, and occasionally the silver screen. She helped found the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, wrote an acclaimed biography (titled Miss Rhythm after her Atlantic nickname) and also returned to music in the late '90s, touring and recording for a new generation of fans. She passed away in November 2006 from complications due to a stroke the month before, but her legacy remains.

Other facts:

  • Performed in the USO as a teenager in World War II and was sent to the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night by grateful servicemen, where she won first prize
  • Began her solo act in Washington as a Billie Holiday mimic, until Holiday forced her to stop
  • Was billed as "The Girl With The Teardrop In Her Voice" early on until pop singer Frankie Laine, known as "Mr. Rhythm," dubbed her "Miss Rhythm"
  • Had a son with the Drifters' Clyde McPhatter, with whom she duetted with in the Fifties
  • Was host of NPR's "Harlem Hit Parade" and "BluesStage" shows
  • Brown's nephew is the legendary rapper known as Rakim

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993)
  • GRAMMY Award (1989)
  • Tony Award (1989)

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "Teardrops From My Eyes" (1950)
  • "5-10-15 Hours" (1952)
  • "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (1953)
  • "Oh What A Dream" (1954)
  • "Mambo Baby" (1954)
Top 10 hits:
R&B:
  • "So Long" (1949)
  • "I'll Wait For You" (1951)
  • "I Know" (1951)
  • "Daddy Daddy" (1952)
  • "Wild Wild Young Men" (1953)
  • "Mend Your Ways" (1953)
  • "As Long As I'm Moving" (1955)
  • "I Can See Everybody's Baby" (1955)
  • "It's Love Baby (24 Hours of the Day)" (1955)
  • "Love Has Joined Us Together" (1955)
  • "I Want To Do More" (1956)
  • "Sweet Baby Of Mine" (1956)
  • "Lucky Lips" (1957)
  • "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'" (1958)
  • "I Don't Know" (1959)
  • "Don't Deceive Me" (1960)
Other important recordings: "Hey Pretty Baby," "I'll Get Along Somehow, Pt. 1," "R.B. Blues," "Standing on the Corner," "Shine On," "Be Anything (But Be Mine)," "Have a Good Time," "Somebody Touched Me," "One More Time," "I Can't Hear a Word You Say," "Bye Bye Young Men," "Why Me," "Jack O'Diamonds"
Covered by: Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, Gale Storm, Cliff Richard, Koko Taylor, Jo Stafford, Bill Haley, Louis Jordan, Susan Tedeschi, Patti Page, George Benson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sarah Vaughn, Jackie DeShannon, Delbert McClinton
Appears in the movies: "Rock 'n' Roll Revue" (1955), "Rhythm and Blues Revue" (1955), "Under The Rainbow (1981), "Hairspray" (1988), "True Identity" (1991)
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