Dinah Washington passed far too soon at the age of 39, but not before establishing herself as a versatile and legendary vocalist. The Chicago native was born August 29, 1924.
Born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the songstress moved with her family to the Windy City when she was a child where she joined several gospel youth choirs and honed her voice. At 15, Washington won a local talent contest and began working in some of Chicago’s jazz clubs. She was hired to sing in the upstairs room of the Garrick Stage Bar, opposite of Billie Holiday in the lower room. Reportedly, the club’s owner gave Washington her stage name.
Bandleader Lionel Hampton was so taken with Washington’s voice, he asked her to join his band as a female vocalist. After leaving the band to embark on her solo career, Washington recorded a string of hits in the late ‘40s through the ‘50s, earning a Grammy Award in 1959 for the song, “What A Difference A Day Makes.”
Of Washington, Quincy Jones wrote in his 2001 biography “Q” : “[She] could take the melody in her hand, hold it like an egg, crack it open, fry it, let it sizzle, reconstruct it, put the egg back in the box and back in the refrigerator and you would’ve still understood every single syllable.”
Washington’s life was filled with many ups and downs, including seven marriages and troubles battling her weight and insomnia, for which she took prescription drugs. In December of 1993, her seventh husband, NFL player Dick “Night Train” Lane found her unresponsive. Her death was ruled an accidental overdose;
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted her in 1993. She was also entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame three times.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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