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Brown, Ruth 1941–

Brown, Ruth 1941–

Personal

Born May 20, 1941, in Tiverton, England; daughter of Hughbert Niels (a company executive) and Dorothy Alice (Wicks) Antonsen; married Kenneth James Brown (an artist and illustrator), August 29, 1964; children: Hogan, James. Education: Attended Bournemouth College of Art, 1957–59; Birmingham College of Art, degree (with first-class honors), 1961; Royal College of Art, M.A., 1964. Politics: Liberal. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, walking the dog in the countryside, reading, traveling, visiting antique shops, cooking.

Addresses

Home—Bath, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Andersen Press, Ltd., Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England.

Career

Author and illustrator, 1979–.

Awards, Honors

Shortlisted for Kate Greenaway Medal, British Library Association, 1988, for Ladybird, Ladybird and 1996, for The Tale of the Monstrous Toad; Redbook Children's Book Award, 1988, for Blossom Comes Home.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED

Crazy Charlie, Andersen (London, England), 1979, reprinted, 1998.

A Dark, Dark Tale, Dial (New York, NY), 1981, published with Arabic translation by Azza Habib, Andersen (London, England), 1998.

If at First You Do Not See, Andersen (London, England), 1982, Holt (New York, NY), 1983.

The Grizzly Revenge, Andersen (London, England), 1983.

The Big Sneeze, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1985, reprinted, Andersen (London, England), 2002.

Our Cat Flossie, Dutton (New York, NY), 1986, reprinted, Andersen (London, England), 2004.

Our Puppy's Holiday, Andersen (London, England), 1987, published as Our Puppy's Vacation, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.

Ladybird, Ladybird, Andersen (London, England), 1988, published as Ladybug, Ladybug, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.

I Don't Like It!, Andersen (London, England), 1989, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.

The World That Jack Built, Andersen (London, England), 1990, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.

The Four-Tongued Alphabet: An Alphabet Book in Four Languages, Andersen (London, England), 1991, published as Alphabet Times Four: An International ABC, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.

The Picnic, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.

One Stormy Night, Andersen (London, England), 1992, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.

Copycat, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.

(Reteller) Greyfriars Bobby, Andersen (London, England), 1995, published as The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.

The Tale of the Monstrous Toad, Andersen (London, England), 1996, published as Toad, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.

Baba, Andersen (London, England), 1997, published as Cry Baby, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.

A Mad Summer Night's Dream, Andersen (London, England), 1998, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.

One Little Angel, Andersen (London, England), 1998, published as The Shy Little Angel, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

Holly: The True Story of a Cat, Andersen (London, England), 1999, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Snail Trail, Crown (New York, NY), 2000.

The Happy Frog, Red Fox (London, England), 2001.

Ten Seeds, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.

Lion in the Long Grass, illustrated by Ken Brown, Andersen (London, England), 2002.

Helpful Henry, Andersen (London, England), 2002.

Ruggles, Anderson (London, England), 2003.

The Christmas Mouse, Red Fox (London, England), 2003.

The Winter Garden, Andersen (London, England), 2004.

Night-Time Tale, Andersen (London, England), 2005.

Imagine, Andersen (London, England), 2006.

ILLUSTRATOR

James Herriot, The Christmas Day Kitten, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

James Herriot, Bonny's Big Day, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.

James Herriot, Blossom Comes Home, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.

James Herriot, The Market Square Dog, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.

James Herriot, Oscar, Cat-about-Town, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

James Herriot, Smudge's Day Out, Michael Joseph (London, England), 1991, published as Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Peter Barrett) James Herriot, James Herriot's Animal Storybook, Michael Joseph (London, England), 1992, published as James Herriot's Treasury for Children, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.

Jeanne Willis, In Search of the Hidden Giant, Andersen (London, England), 1993, published as In Search of the Giant, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.

Frances Thomas, Mr. Bear and the Bear, Andersen (London, England), 1994, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.

Toby Forward, The Christmas Mouse, Andersen (London, England), 1996, published as Ben's Christmas Carol, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.

Hiawyn Oram, The Wise Doll: A Traditional Tale, Andersen (London, England), 1997, published as Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll: A Traditional Russian Folktale, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

ILLUSTRATOR; "YOU AND ME" STORYBOOK SERIES

Judith Miles, The Three Little Pigs, Longman (London, England), 1979.

Barbara Parker, The Three Bears, Longman (London, England), 1979.

Mary Harris, The Black and White Cat, Longman (London, England), 1979.

Judith Miles, The Ugly Duckling, Longman (London, England), 1979.

Francesca Zeissl, King Gargantua, Longman (London, England), 1981.

Barbara Parker, Town Mouse, Country Mouse, Longman (London, England), 1981.

Adaptations

Several of Brown's books have been adapted for audiocassette.

Sidelights

Ruth Brown has written and illustrated numerous children's books, which have won her fans in both in her native England and North America. Known for her delicate use of watercolors, her particular love of cats, and her realistic and atmospheric representations of rural life, she has been particularly praised for her richly textured and colored artwork. "I'm very lucky to earn my living by writing and illustrating books," Brown once told SATA. "It means I can work at my own pace in my own time and in my own house. Sometimes I work very hard—seven days a week—and then when I've finished a book I can take a little time off before I start the next one." Among the many original picture books Brown has created are Toad, Ten Seeds, and Mad Summer Night's Dream, the last praised by Booklist contributor John Peters as "a lighthearted romp, depicted with [Brown's] characteristically sweeping brushstrokes." In a review of Baba—published in the United States as Cry Baby—about a pesky baby sister, Angela Redfern wrote in School Librarian: "you come to Ruth Brown's books with high expectations. You know she will write about something that matters."

Born in England in 1941, Brown grew up in Germany and in Bournemouth, England. After five years of arts studies, she married fellow illustrator Ken Brown and began a family. In 1979 she published her first children's book, Crazy Charlie. The story of a voracious crocodile who becomes less intimidating after his teeth fall out, the book was well received in England, and its 1983 publication in the United States introduced the author to U.S. audiences. Christine C. Seibold, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "children will identify with Charlie's longing for attention, and will cheer when he finally learns it's better to smile than growl." Seibold also commented on the "bold double-spread watercolor illustrations … rich in jungle colors and detail."

"The very hardest part of my job is thinking of good ideas," Brown once noted to SATA. "The writing is the next most difficult thing and doing the illustrations is the most fun." In creating her stories, she takes inspiration from the most commonplace of events. A fly lands on the nose of a sleeping farmer in The Big Sneeze, and sets off a chain reaction of accidents when it causes the dozing agrarian to sneeze. A Junior Bookshelf contributor called Brown's artwork for this book "delightfully evocative," while Moira Small noted in Books for Keeps that Brown "has produced a visual treat in this wonderful picture book … and a lesson in logic for small people!"

Familiar inspirations such as nursery rhymes and the alphabet serve as inspiration for several books by Brown. The World That Jack Built employs "the old cumulative Jack verse for a picture book about the environment," according to Booklist writer Hazel Rochman. Two contrasting valleys—one verdant and pristine, the other industrial and polluted—combine with the traditional format to bring home the author/illustrator's conservation message in what Magpies reviewer Cynthia Anthony described as a "powerful book." Alphabet Times Four: An International ABC (published in England as The Four-Tongued Alphabet: An Alphabet Book in Four Languages) goes beyond the bounds of traditional A-B-C books by spelling out words in four different languages—English, Spanish, French, and German—that happen to begin with the same letter. Hearne, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noted that "teachers, librarians, and parents will find this a long-term, broad-based aesthetic investment." Reviewing the British edition, a Junior Bookshelf critic called Brown's book "beautifully pictured, in richly coloured and mysterious, imaginative paintings."

Animals of all sorts have provided Brown with one of her richest sources of inspiration. In A Dark, Dark Tale a black cat finds its way across a dark moor to a gloomy castle and then to a darkened corner of a mysterious room. "Brown's rich acrylic paintings are all shadows and cobwebs," noted Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, adding that A Dark, Dark Tale "will work well as a read-aloud with young listeners." Featuring another feline, her book Our Cat Flossie follows a house cat through a typical day that includes favorite haunts and favorite pastimes. "Brown is, quite obviously, gone on cats," Christina Olson remarked in a School Library Journal review of the book, adding that her "softly colored portraits" of the beloved pet "are charming" and enhance "a book that is simple—fulfillingly so." Chris Powling, writing in Books for Keeps, called Our Cat Flossie a "straightforward charmer." Praised for its "masterfully painted, realistic" illustrations by a School Library Journal reviewer, Holly: The True Story of a Cat follows as an abandoned coal-black kitten brings meaning to the holiday festivities of an English family. Based on Brown's own experience, the book features a simple text, while the author/illustrator's obvious understanding of the "cuddly, wily and sometimes standoffish ways of felines" will win points with cat lovers, in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Moving from cats to dogs, Brown serves up the adventures of a Labrador puppy in Our Puppy's Vacation, which Kristi Thomas Beavin called "visually appealing" in School Library Journal, and Betsy Hearne deemed "well worth the trip!" in her review for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. In One Stormy Night the reader is presented with another dog's-eye view of life, this time a stormy night. Readers worry as a lonely dog enters the gates of a scary manor, searching for shelter from the severe weather. When the storm clears in the morning, the white dog has been transformed: it appears as a carved figure sitting guard on a tomb at a nearby church. A Junior Bookshelf critic concluded a review of the book by stating that "Brown knows her animals and her architecture, and she captures the muted tones of night with great skill."

Other popular animal and nature titles from Brown include Ladybird, Ladybird (released in the United States as Ladybug, Ladybug), The Picnic, and Ten Seeds. The ladybird or ladybug of the first book is the subject of a Mother Goose rhyme which Brown adapts into something of an environmental message, expanding the rhyme to include the animals and plants of the countryside. "It is Brown's lush, dramatically staged illustrations that add real weight to the poem," noted Phyllis Wilson in Booklist. Margery Fisher wrote in Growing Point that "there is an unobtrusive lesson in natural history implied in the pages of this expressive picture-book."

Humans venturing into the countryside unwittingly threaten disaster for the rabbits, mice, and moles inhabiting an underground burrow near a picnic site in The Picnic, while in Ten Seeds Brown weaves a simple counting lesson into a story about life in a backyard vegetable garden. "Brown's talent for illustrating nature is admirably displayed here," commented Judy Constantinides in a School Library Journal review of The Picnic, while Kristina Lindsay remarked in Magpies that the author/illustrator's artwork is "superb, with her delicate watercolours highlighting the stark difference between the bright daylight outside and dark burrow underground." In Ten Seeds Brown creates what a Horn Book contributor cited as a "marvelous opportunity to discuss plant life cycles and survival," as ten sunflower seeds are planted and through the works of slugs, mice, moles, and other garden visitors only a single flower opens, revealing a wealth of new seeds. Brown's detailed watercolors introduce young readers to the life cycle "with accuracy and charm," according to School Library Journal reviewer Patricia Pearl Dole.

Moving to literature, Brown retells the tale of a loyal dog in The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby and tips her hat to British writer Charles Dickens in a mousey version of Ben's Christmas Carol, a holiday classic penned by Toby Forward. In The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby two modern-day children, tourists in Edinburgh, Scotland, take readers back in time when they happen upon a fountain commemorating a dog called Bobby who was buried in a nearby churchyard. They—and the reader—learn, through a bit of magical flashback, of the loyalty of the dog that followed its master to his grave and then lingered nearby for fourteen years until it died as well. "Atmospheric prose and beguiling full-spread watercolors unfold Bobby's life with his master, Old Jock," commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Lisa S. Murphy, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "Brown's masterful watercolors paint an inviting picture of both the town of Edinburgh and the gorgeous Scottish countryside," and deemed the book a "beautiful retelling of a hard-to-find legend." From a loyal dog, Brown shifts her focus to a stingy mouse in illustrating Ben's Christmas Carol, casting Ben the mouse as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Ben's Christmas Carol was heralded by several critics, Susan Dove Lempke writing in Booklist that the book's "sumptuous" paintings display London "in all its moods—from spooky and grimy to celebratory."

With The Tale of the Monstrous Toad—also published simply as Toad—Brown moves from the sumptuous to the grotesque. As Brown's text makes clear, Toad is the tale of a "toad odorous, foul and filthy, and dripping with venomous fluid." Toad's very ugliness is his defense, however: when he wanders into the jaws of a large predator, he is quickly spit back out again. Deborah Stevenson, reviewing the book for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, wrote that it "seems a bit unfair to turn the toad's natural defenses into such a condemnatory judgment … about his personal charms, but the story trips along rhythmically nonetheless." Focusing on Brown's artwork for the book, Caroline Ward commented in School Library Journal that, "from the wart-encrusted end paper to the browns and greens of the slimy mire, the fluid watercolor illustrations aptly depict the setting."

As part of her work creating illustrations for stories by other writers, Brown has taken paintbrush in hand to illustrate several stories by beloved veterinarian-turned-writer James Herriot, providing atmospheric and lovingly detailed artwork that enhances and often transcends the usual bounds of book illustration. Reviewing her illustrations for Herriot's The Market Square Dog, for example, a Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that "Brown's softly shaded watercolors recall an England of an earlier era, a place of cozy stone cottages and country gardens." Other books by Herriot that have been transformed into picture-book classics with the help of Brown's detailed watercolor illustrations include Oscar, Cat-about-Town, Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb, and The Christmas Day Kitten.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, December 1, 1981, Ilene Cooper, review of A Dark, Dark Tale, p. 494; March 1, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of The World That Jack Built, p. 1397; October 1, 1994, Ellen Mandel, review of Copycat, p. 331; September 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Ben's Christmas Carol, p. 1; July, 1997, p. 1822; January 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll: A Traditional Russian Folktale, p. 818; October 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of The Shy Little Angel, p. 334; November 1, 1998, Phyllis Wilson, review of Ladybug, Ladybug, p. 479; June 1, 1999, John Peters, review of A Mad Summer Night's Dream, p. 1838; September 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Holly, p. 129; May 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Ten Seeds, p. 1754.

Books for Keeps, May, 1986, Chris Powling, review of Our Cat Flossie, p. 27; May, 1992, p. 27; May, 1993, Moira Small, review of The Big Sneeze, pp. 7, 36; September, 1997, p. 20.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1987, Betsy Hearne, review of Our Puppy's Vacation, p. 23; March, 1991, pp. 159-160; November, 1991, Betsy Hearne, review of Alphabet Times Four: An International ABC, pp. 57-58; September, 1996, p. 6; March, 1997, Deborah Stevenson, review of Toad, p. 2442; December, 2000, review of Holly, p. 136.

Growing Point, July, 1988, Margery Fisher, review of Ladybird, Ladybird, p. 5013.

Horn Book, January-February, 1986, p. 54; January-February, 1987, p. 46; March-April, 1998, Lauren Adams, review of Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll, p. 227; September, 2001, review of Ten Seeds, p. 570.

Junior Bookshelf, December, 1982, review of If at First You Do Not See, p. 218; August, 1985, review of The Big Sneeze, p. 172; December, 1991, review of The Four-Tongued Alphabet: An Alphabet Book in Four Languages, p. 238; February, 1993, review of One Stormy Night, p. 11.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1981, review of A Dark, Dark Tale, p. 1403; September 15, 1991, p. 1230.

Magpies, March, 1991, Cynthia Anthony, review of The World That Jack Built, p. 26; July, 1993, Kristina Lindsay, The Picnic, p. 27; March, 2002, review of Ten Seeds, p. 26.

New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1993, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1983, review of If at First You Do Not See, p. 57; October 13, 1989, review of The Market Square Dog, p. 51; July 5, 1993, p. 70; August 22, 1994, review of Copycat, p. 54; December 12, 1994, p. 62; March 11, 1996, review of The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby, p. 63; September 30, 1996, p. 89; January 12, 1998, review of Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll, p. 58; September 28, 1998, review of The Shy Little Angel, p. 57; June 7, 1999, review of Mad Summer Night's Dream, p. 82; November 13, 2000, review of Holly, p. 103.

School Librarian, August, 1997, Angela Redfern, review of Baba, pp. 129-130; winter, 2002, review of Lion in the Long Grass, p. 185; summer, 2003, review of Helpful Henry, p. 73.

School Library Journal, September, 1983, Christine C. Seibold, review of Crazy Charlie, p. 102; November, 1986, Christina Olson, review of Our Cat Flossie, pp. 72-73; January, 1988, Kristi Thomas Beavin, review of Our Puppy's Vacation, p. 63; March, 1993, Judy Constantinides, review of The Picnic, p. 171; March, 1995, p. 187; August, 1996, Lisa S. Murphy, review of The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby, p. 133; March, 1997, Caroline Ward, review of Toad, p. 149; February, 1998, p. 79; October, 1998, review of The Shy Little Angel, p. 40; October, 2000, review of Holly, p. 57; July, 2001, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Ten Seeds, p. 73.

Times Educational Supplement, July 18, 1997, p. 35.

ONLINE

Andersen Press Web site, http://www.andersenpress.co.uk/ (April 27, 2006), "Ruth Brown."

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Brown, Ruth

Ruth Brown

Singer

Ruth Brown's career has spanned more than five decades, but in the 1980s she made a storybook comeback. Beset by such trials as a debilitating car accident that kept her in the hospital the year she signed her first contract with Atlantic Records, and, more devastating, the world's shift of interest from rhythm and blues to rock and roll, Brown's progress has been marked by hills and valleys. The 1980s and early 1990s found her atop a significant peak. Her album Blues on Broadway won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance by a Female in 1990. Her performance in Broadway's Black and Blue won her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, and a Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 1989. On her 65th birthday in 1993 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

However, these accolades came on the heels of years of financial hardship. Brown lived on Long Island, New York, where she worked as a bus driver, a teacher for the mentally retarded, and a house cleaner, struggling to raise her two sons, Ronnie and Earl, alone. By this time each of her four marriages had failed. Indeed, as she told Steve Dougherty and Victoria Balfour of People, "If I ever write a book, Tina Turner's [life] would look like a fairy tale." Throughout these years she spent far too much of her hard-earned money trying to win back royalties from Atlantic Records. Eventually, with the help of her longtime fan and lawyer, Howell Begles, she not only got herself some paychecks but helped to establish the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for other ill-served rhythm and blues stars.

Born Ruth Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1928, Ruth grew up the oldest of seven children in a strict church-going household. Her father was a choir director with little patience or appreciation for "the devil's music," as he called the blues. She sang at church functions throughout her childhood, and was first paid to sing at a wedding when she was about seven years old. From then on, she told Living Blues' Chip Deffaa, she wanted to be a professional singer.

Won Amateur Night at the Apollo

Ostensibly visiting relatives in New York City, she seized the opportunity to compete in Harlem at the Apollo Theater's famed amateur night, where she won first prize for singing "It Could Happen to You." Afraid to tell her parents, she kept her success to herself while she struggled to overcome her own learned prejudice against the blues. But Brown found a way to embrace her calling. She told Deffaa, "Because I have become a woman and experienced life, I know that at one time or the other, the best Christian in the world has had the blues, about something. And it's not until you get the blues that you go to Christ for help."

Brown listened attentively to many types of music throughout her career, and various influences can be heard in her music. Most obviously, Brown owes a debt to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but pop music also had its effect. With the rest of the country, Brown listened to Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, and Vaughan Monroe, and she sang their songs effectively, though in later years she voiced a little contempt for pop music.

Though she broke into the industry with the success of "Lucky Lips," by pop songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller, she admitted to Lee Jeske of Rolling Stone that she "felt kind of ridiculous singing, 'When I was just a little girl, with long and silky curls.' Never had no long and silky curls in all my life," she announced succinctly. And when Patti Page, Tony Bennett, Georgia Gibbs, and Kay Starr—all white performers—covered her songs, she told Jeske, "It didn't do a damn thing except stop me from getting on the top TV shows. I never got to do The Ed Sullivan Show. Patti Page did."

Brown first heard black singers on a radio show called The Mail Bag, which introduced her to the Ink Spots, the Charioteers, and Sonny Til and the Orioles. She has hosted her own radio shows, Blues Stages and Harlem Hit Parade, which spotlighted black rhythm and blues musicians. Racial issues have been with her from the start. She told Billboard's Nelson George that in the 1940s and 1950s, "it was a major decision for a sharecropper whether or not they were going to save that money or go to the show."

Sang Through Many Obstacles

Back in the early days of her professional life, Brown explained to Jeske, "The concerts would be—downstairs where the dancers were—jampacked black. Upstairs balcony, all the way around, white spectators … [Sometimes] they had a dividing line on the floor … sometimes just a clothesline … Or there would be some big, burly white cops." Brown sang her way through these obstacles, eventually finding wider and wider audiences through an acting career. Actor Redd Foxx showed off her dramatic talents both on Sanford and Son and by giving her the part of Mahalia Jackson in Selma. She headlined in two other short-lived sitcoms, Hello Larry and Checking In, and finally achieved stardom in the musical theater revue, Black and Blue.

Black and Blue played first in Paris, where, nightly, Brown proudly related to George, "we received 12-13 curtain calls." The show was particularly important for its realistic depiction of blacks, according to Brown. She did not need to look like a lithe starlet to play her role; to the contrary, she needed only to look like herself. After the show, she boasted to Stephanie Stein of Down Beat, black people would come up and say, "'I am so proud.' That is my paycheck…. I'm really singing my life out here."

For the Record …

Born Ruth Weston on January 30, 1928, in Portsmouth, VA; daughter of a choir director and a restaurant employee; married Jimmy Brown (marriage annulled); married Willis Jackson (divorced); married Earl Swanson (divorced); married Bill Blunt (divorced); children: (second marriage) Ronnie, (third marriage) Earl.

Began singing career at local Emmanuel AME church; sang in nightclubs in Norfolk, at Langley Field Air Force Base, and Camp Lejeune; won first prize at amateur night at Harlem's Apollo Theater; worked briefly for Lucky Milliner; sang in Blanche Calloway's club, Washington, DC; signed contract with Atlantic and released So Long, 1949; worked variously as a singer, bus driver, teacher, and house cleaner, 1960s-70s; appeared on television in Sanford and Son, 1974, Hello Larry, 1979-81, and Checking In, 1981; appeared onstage as Mahalia Jackson in Selma and Off-Broadway in Amen Corner, Champeen, and Stagger Lee, 1983-87; subject of PBS documentary That Rhythm, Those Blues, 1988; appeared in film Hairspray, 1988; played leading role in Broadway production Black and Blue, 1989; hosted National Public Radio series BlueStage, 1989; suffered stroke, 2000; staged comeback performances in New York, 2004.

Awards: Pittsburgh Courier, Bessie Smith Award, 1953; Grammy Award, Best Female Jazz Vocal Performance, for Blues on Broadway, 1989; Tony Award, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, 1989, Blues Alive Award, 1989, and Outer Critics Circle Award, 1990, all for Black and Blue; Image Award from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Trailblazer Award from One Hundred Black Women; city of Philadelphia established a Ruth Brown Achievement Award; Portsmouth, VA, established a Ruth Brown Scholarship fund for students in the performing arts; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1993; received New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Program Beacons in Jazz Award, 2005.

Addresses: Record company—Bullseye Blues & Jazz Records, One Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140, phone: (617) 354-0700.

The days of sneaking out to clubs in Portsmouth, Virginia; of being discovered first by Lucky Milliner, Blanche Calloway (Cab's sister), and finally by Herb Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun of the just-born Atlantic label; of singing "Mambo Baby" during the 1954 mambo craze; and of thrilling her listeners with "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," made Brown savvy and wise. Many critics find her work of the 1980s and 1990s her strongest, however. She remarked to Deffaa, "It took all those years to get to this point."

Brown has concerned herself with quality, and warns against the dangers of too many electronic studios, engineers, and producers. "I'm listening to singers closer than I ever did before," she told Deffaa in 1990. "Because the lyrics are becoming very important. And I think that's the saving grace right now. Otherwise we're going to look up and not have no singers left…. [Unless] we get some people who are sensitive enough to look inside the lyric, we ain't going to have no more [Dinah Shores] and no more [Billie Holidays] and no more [Ella Fitzgeralds] to interpret that lyric."

A Lesson from Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, Brown told People, was smart enough to whip Brown into shape: "If you copy my music, no one will ever copy yours," she berated Brown. So Brown stopped imitating and became the woman who made Blues on Broadway, which Ron Weinstock of Living Blues called "simply great stuff and one of the best recordings I've heard in 1989." A writer for Stereo Review recounted the experience of listening to Fine and Mellow: "Listening to this … Ruth Brown album is like taking a stroll down memory lane and on into the kind of crowded, smoke-filled club where countless organ-and-vocal combos delighted weekend crowds…. Nobody sings [rhythm and blues] better today."

In the 1990s Brown continued to perform and record, despite health issues. She released Live in London in 1996, R+B=Ruth Brown in 1997, and Good Day for the Blues in 1999. Nearly crippled from the persistent pain from her automobile accident in the 1940s, she continued to perform while seated, or standing with the help of a cane. She battled back from pneumonia, colon cancer, and congestive heart failure. In 2000 she suffered a massive stroke. The stroke rendered her speechless for several days, and required months of speech therapy. Her short-term memory was nearly erased, forcing her to use lyric sheets onstage for her subsequent performances after she returned to the stage in 2004.

Her ailments caused Brown some trepidation about performing. "I didn't know how they would receive me, anywhere," she told New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson. "Because the memories they have of me. I used to walk that stage back and forth and dance through the whole thing." Her health problems and age have also changed her voice. According to David Finkle of Jet, "That torn voice of Brown's is marked now by a rasp. Often the powerful rasp comes at the end of sustained notes that often weren't pretty in any conventional way. But they and everything about her now lend character to her performing…. 'I'm old, but I'm not cold,' Brown says in a comic aside, and she couldn't be righter." In 2005 Brown received another honor when the New School University's Jazz and Contemporary Music Program bestowed upon her its 2005 Beacons in Jazz Award, along with Jimmy Heath and Hank Jones, in New York City.

Rhythm and blues has remained Ruth Brown's cause. She told Deffaa, "If I were ever to really get lucky, really what I would like to do is to take some of that vast farmland back [in Portsmouth] and build a little community for the … senior citizens from the rhythm and blues business like myself … who just need a place to pick up their dignity."

Selected discography

So Long, Atlantic, 1949.

Gospel Time, Lection, 1963, reissued, 1989.

Have a Good Time, Fantasy, 1988.

Blues on Broadway, Fantasy, 1989.

Ruth Brown: Miss Rhythm, Atlantic, 1989.

(Contributor) Black and Blue, DRG, 1990.

Fine and Mellow, Fantasy, 1992.

The Songs of My Life, Fantasy, 1993.

Live in London, Jazz House, 1996.

R+B=Ruth Brown, Bullseye Blues, 1997.

Good Day for the Blues, Bullseye Blues, 1999.

Miss Rhythm, Atlantic, 1999.

Sources

Back Stage, July 30, 2004.

Billboard, April 8, 1989; January 25, 1992; August 28, 1993.

Down Beat, March 1990; August 1990; December 1993.

Essence, April 1988.

Jet, February 1, 1993; March 14, 2005.

Living Blues, May/June 1990; July/August 1990.

New York Times, July 20, 2004.

People, March 6, 1989.

Rolling Stone, April 19, 1990; February 4, 1993.

Stereo Review, April 1990; July 1992.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Fantasy Inc. publicity materials, 1993.

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Brown, Ruth

Ruth Brown

Singer

Devils Music

Proud of Black and Blue

Queen in Her Own Right

Selected discography

Sources

Ruth Browns career has spanned five decades, but the 1980s made her the protagonist of a storybook comeback. Beset with such trials as a debilitating car accident that kept her in the hospital a year, she signed her first contract with Atlantic records, and, more devastating, the worlds shift of interest from rhythm and blues to rock and roll, Browns progress has been marked by hills and valleys. The 1980s and early 1990s found her atop a significant peak. Her album Blues on Broadway won a Grammy Award for best jazz vocal performance by a female in 1990; her performance in Broadways Black and Blue won her a Tony Award for best actress in a musical, and a Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 1989. On her 65th birthday in 1993 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

These accolades came on the heels, however, of years of financial hardship on Long Island, New York, where she worked as a bus driver, as a teacher for the mentally retarded, and a house cleaner, struggling to raise her two sons, Ronnie and Earl, alone. By this time each of her four marriages had failed. Indeed, as she told Steve Dougherty and Victoria Balfour of People, If I ever write a book, Tina Turners [life] would look like a fairy tale. Throughout these years she spent far too much of her hard-earned money trying to win back royalties from Atlantic Recordseventually, with the help of her longtime fan and lawyer, Howell Begles, she not only got herself some paychecks but helped to establish the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for other illserved rhythm and blues stars.

Devils Music

Born Ruth Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1928, Ruth grew up the oldest of seven children in a strict church-going household. Her father was a choir director with little patience or appreciation for the devils music, as he called the blues. She sang at church functions throughout her childhood, and was first paid to sing at a wedding when she was about seven years old. From then on, she told Living BluesChip Deffaa, she wanted to be a professional singer.

Ostensibly visiting relatives in New York City, she seized the opportunity to compete at Harlems Apollo Theaters famed amateur night, where she won first prize for singing It Could Happen to You. Afraid to tell her parents, she kept her success to herself while she struggled to overcome her own learned prejudice against the blues. But Brown found a way to embrace her calling. She told Deffaa, Because I have become a woman and experienced life, I know that at one time or the other, the best Christian in the world has had the blues, about something. And its not until you get the

For the Record

Born Ruth Weston, January 30, 1928, in Portsmouth, VA; daughter of a choir director and a restaurant employee; married Jimmy Brown (a midshipman and trumpet player; marriage annulled); married Willis Jackson (a saxophonist; marriage ended); married Earl Swanson (a saxophonist; marriage ended); married Bill Blunt (a policeman; divorced); children: (second marriage) Ronnie, (third marriage) Earl.

Began singing career at local Emmanuel AME church; sang in nightclubs in Norfolk, at Langley Field Air Force Base, and Camp Lejeune; won first prize for Amateur Night at Harlems Apollo Theater; worked briefly for Lucky Milliner; sang in Blanche Calloways club, Washington, DC; signed contract with Atlantic and released So Long, 1949; worked variously as a singer, bus driver, teacher, and house cleaner, 1960s and 1970s; appeared on television in Sanford and Son, 1974, Hello Larry, 1979-81, and Checking In, 1981; appeared onstage as Mahalia Jackson in Selma and Off-Broadway in Amen Corner, Champeen, and Stagger Lee, 1983-87; subject of PBS documentary, That Rhythm, Those Blues, 1988; appeared in film Hairspray, 1988; played leading role in Broadway production Black and Blue, 1989; hosted National Public Radio series BlueStage, 1989.

Awards: Bessie Smith Award, Pittsburgh Courier, 1953; Grammy Award for best female jazz vocal performance, 1989, for Blues on Broadway; Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical, 1989, Blues Alive Award, 1989, and Outer Critics Circle Award, 1990, all for Black and Blue; Image Award from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Trailblazer Award from One Hundred Black Women; the city of Philadelphia established a Ruth Brown Achievement Award; Portsmouth established a Ruth Brown Scholarship fund for students in the performing arts; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1993.

Addresses: Home New York City. Record company Fantasy Inc., Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710.

blues that you go to Christ for help.

Brown listened attentively to many types of music throughout her career, and various influences can be heard in her own music. Most obviously, Brown owes a debt to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but pop music also had its effect. With the rest of the country, Brown listened to Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, and Vaughan Monroe, and she sang their songs effectively, though in later years she voiced a little contempt for pop music.

Though she broke into the industry with the success of Lucky Lips, by pop songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller, she admitted to Lee Jeske of Rolling Stone that she felt kind of ridiculous singing, When I was just a little girl, with long and silky curls. Never had no long and silky curls in all my life, she announced succinctly. And when Patti Page, Tony Bennet, Georgia Gibbs, and Kay Starrall whitecovered her songs, it didnt do a damn thing, she made clear to Jeske, except stop me from getting on the top TV shows. I never got to do The Ed Sullivan Show. Patti Page did.

Brown first heard black singers on a radio show called The Mail Bag, which introduced her to the Ink Spots, the Charioteers, and Sonny Til and the Orioles. She has hosted her own radio shows, Blues Stages and Harlem Hit Parade, which spotlighted black rhythm and blues musicians. Racial issues have been with her from the start. In the 1940s and 1950s, she told Billboards Nelson George, it was a major decision for a sharecropper whether or not they were going to save that money or go to the show.

Back in the early days of her professional life, Brown explained to Jeske, the concerts would bedownstairs where the dancers werejampacked black. Upstairs balcony, all the way around, white spectators. [Sometimes] they had a dividing line on the floor; sometimes just a clothesline. Or there would be some big, burly white cops. Brown sang her way through these obstacles, eventually finding wider and wider audiences through an acting career. Actor Redd Foxx showed off her dramatic talents both on Sanford and Son and by giving her the part of Mahalia Jackson in Selma. She headlined in two other short-lived sitcoms, Hello Larry and Checking In, and finally achieved stardom in Black and Blue.

Proud of Black and Blue

Black and Blue played first in Paris, where nightly, Brown proudly related to George, we received 12-13 curtain calls. The show was particularly important for its realistic depiction of blacks, according to Brown. She did not need to look like a lithe starlette to play her role; to the contrary, she needed only to look like herself. After the show, she boasted to Stephanie Stein of Down Beat, black people would come up and say, I am so proud. That is my paycheck. Im really singing my life out here.

The days of sneaking out to clubs in Portsmouth, Virginia; of being discovered first by Lucky Milliner, Blanche Calloway (Cabs sister), and finally by Herb Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun of the just-born Atlantic label; of singing Mambo Baby during the 1954 mambo craze; and of thrilling her listeners with Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean, made Brown savvy and wise. Many critics find her work of the 1980s and 1990s her strongest. She remarked to Deffaa, It took all those years to get to this point.

Brown has concerned herself with quality, and warns against the dangers of too many electronic studios, engineers, and producers. Im listening to singers closer than I ever did before, she told Deffaa in 1990. Because the lyrics are becoming very important. And I think thats the saving grace right now. Otherwise were going to look up and not have no singers left. [Unless] we get some people who are sensitive enough to look inside the lyric, we aint going to have no more [Dinah Shores] and no more [Billie Holidays] and no more [Ella Fitzgeralds] to interpret that lyric.

Queen in Her Own Right

Billie Holiday, Brown told People, was smart enough to whip Brown into shape: If you copy my music, no one will ever copy yours, she berated Brown. So Brown stopped imitating and became, for example, the woman who made Blues on Broadway, which Ron Weinstock of Living Blues called simply great stuff and one of the best recordings Ive heard in 1989. A writer for Stereo Review recounted the experience of listening to Fine and Mellow: Listening to this Ruth Brown album is like taking a stroll down memory lane and on into the kind of crowded, smoke-filled club where countless organ-and-vocal combos delighted weekend crowds. Nobody sings [rhythm and blues] better today.

Rhythm and blues remain Ruth Browns cause. With great poignancy, she told Deffaa, If I were ever to really get lucky, really what I would like to do is to take some of that vast farmland back [in Portsmouth] and build a little community for the senior citizens from the rhythm and blues business like myself who just need a place to pick up their dignity. The disclaimer notwithstanding, Ruth Browns dignity seems very much intact.

Selected discography

So Long, Atlantic, 1949.

Gospel Time, Lection Records, 1963, reissued, 1989.

Have a Good Time, Fantasy, 1988.

Blues on Broadway, Fantasy, 1989.

Ruth Brown: Miss Rhythm, Atlantic, 1989.

(Contributor) Black and Blue, DRG, 1990.

Fine and Mellow, Fantasy, 1992.

The Songs of My Life, Fantasy, 1993.

Sources

Billboard, April 8, 1989; January 25, 1992; August 28, 1993.

Down Beat, March 1990; August 1990; December 1993.

Essence, April 1988.

Jet, February 1, 1993.

Living Blues, May/June 1990; July/August 1990.

People Weekly, March 6, 1989.

Rolling Stone, April 19, 1990; February 4, 1993.

Stereo Review, April 1990; July 1992.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Fantasy Inc. publicity materials, 1993.

Diane Moroff

Cite this article
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"Brown, Ruth." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Brown, Ruth." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brown-ruth

"Brown, Ruth." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brown-ruth