Washington, Dinah (originally, Jones, Ruth Lee)

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Washington, Dinah (originally, Jones, Ruth Lee)

Washington, Dinah (originally, Jones, Ruth Lee ), American singer; b. Tuscaloosa, Ala., Aug. 29, 1924; d. Detroit, Mich., Dec. 14, 1963. Though Washington was embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm by fans of gospel, jazz, and blues music, she found her greatest success as an R&B singer, reaching the R&B singles charts with 46 recordings between 1944 and 1961, among them “Baby Get Lost” and her duets with Brook Benton, “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love).” Toward the end of her career she successfully crossed over to pop music, scoring 21 entries in the pop singles chart between 1959 and 1963, starting with “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.”

Washington was the daughter of Ollie Jones and Alice Williams Jones; her father was a gambler, and her mother, a domestic, was also a music teacher who played piano and led the church choir. The family moved to Chicago in 1927, and Washington learned to sing and play the piano in church. She began to perform in nightclubs as a teenager, but also toured with a gospel group. In 1943 she was hired by Lionel Hampton and sang with his orchestra through 1946. She made her recording debut on Dec. 29,1943, in a session organized by jazz critic Leonard Feather for Keynote Records that produced two Top Ten R&B hits, “Salty Papa Blues” and “Evil Gal Blues” (both music and lyrics by Leonard Feather). Her only popular recording with Hampton, the R&B Top Ten hit “Blow-Top Blues,” reached the charts in May 1947, after she had left the band to go solo.

Washington recorded briefly for Apollo Records in December 1945, then began a 15-year association with Mercury Records in January 1946. She scored four Top Ten hits on the R&B charts in 1948, among them the chart-topper “Am I Asking Too Much?” This success continued through the first half of the 1950s: she had four R&B Top Ten hits in 1949, including the #1 “Baby Get Lost”; five in 1950; four in 1951, including a version of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart”; four in 1952; two in 1953; three in 1954; and one in 1955. At the same time, she made more jazz-oriented recordings on Mercury’s EmArcy label.

After a relative commercial lull of a few years, Washington made a comeback in 1959 with “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” which made the Top Ten of both the pop and R&B charts and won her a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance. In 1960 her duets with Brook Benton, the million-selling “Baby (YouVe Got What It Takes)” and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love),” and the solo recording “This Bitter Earth” all topped the R&B charts, and the Benton duets also made the pop Top Ten.

Washington scored a final Top Ten R&B hit with “September in the Rain” in 1961, after which she switched from Mercury to Roulette Records and quickly recorded a series of LPs for the new label. She died of an accidental overdose of liquor and sleeping or diet pills in 1963 at the age of 39. At the time, she was married to professional athlete Richard “Night Train” Lane. Her other husbands, legal and common-law, included John Young, drummer George Jenkins (with whom she had a son), Robert Grayson (with whom she had another son), bassist Walter Buchanan, saxophonist Eddie Chamblee, cab-driver Horatio Maillard, actor Rafael Campos, and Jackie Hayes.


Dinah Washington Songs (1950); Dynamic Dinah (1951); Blazing Ballads (1951); After Hours with Miss D (1954); Dinah Jams (1954); For Those in Love (1955); Dinah (1956); In the Land of Hi-Fi (1956); The Swingin’Miss D (1956); Sings Fats Waller (1957); The Jazz Sides (1976); Music for a First Love (1957); Music for Late Hours (1957); The Best in Blues (1957); Sings Bessie Smith (1958); Newport ’58 (1958); The Queen (1959); What a Difrence a Day Makes (1959); Newport ’58 (1959); Sings Fats Waller (1959); Unforgettable (1960); I Concentrate on You (1961); For Lorce/y Lotœrs (1961); September in the Rain (1961); Tears and Laughter (1962); I Wanna Be Loved (1962); Dmá ’62 (1962); In Ltwe (1962); Drinking Again (1962); Bacfc io the Blues (1962); Dmá ’63 (1963); In Tribute (1963); Good Old Days (1963); This is My Story, Vol. 1 (1963); This Is My Story, Vol. 2 (1963); Stranger on Earth (1964); Dinah Washington (1964); Best (1965); Queen and Quincy (with Quincy Jones) (1965); Dinah Discovered (1967); A S/zdt Chick (On the Mellow Side) (1981); Golden Hits, Vol. 1 (1985); The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 1 (1946-1949) (1987); The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 2 (1950-1952) (1987); Dinah Washington (1987); Sings the Blues (1988); The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 3 (1952-1954) (1988); The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 4 (1954-1956) (1988); The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 5 (1956-1958) (1989); The Complete Dinah Washington Washington on Mercury, Vol. 6 (1958-1960) (1989); The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 7 (1961) (1989); The Great Songs (1992); Mellow Mama (1992); The Best of Dinah Washington: The Roulette Years (1993); Jazz ’Round Midnight (1993); The Dinah Washington Story (1993); Verve Jazz Masters 19: Dinah Washington (1994); Verve Jazz Masters 40: Dinah Washington Sings Standards (1994); Teach Me Tonight (1995); All of Me (1996); How to Do It (1997); The Classic Dinah (1985); Golden Classics (1990). BROOK BENTON AND DINAH WASHINGTON: The Two of Us (1960).


J. Haskins, Queen of the Blues: A Biography of D. W.(N.Y., 1987).

—William Ruhlmann

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Washington, Dinah (originally, Jones, Ruth Lee)

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Washington, Dinah (originally, Jones, Ruth Lee)