The Artistry of… Dinah Washington

She could sing whatever she wanted… blues, jazz and popular music. Early days were in the church rooted in gospel music, playing and singing. Her mother taught piano and also sang. She caught the secular music bug early, and that bug was fed by a win in a talent contest in Chicago, where she grew up.

An Alabaman by birth, born as Ruth Lee Jones, Washington spent her youth in Chicago. Her earliest tour was with Lionel Hampton’s band after the bandleader and vibes player saw her in one of her early shows. Keynote, Apollo, Mercury, and Roulette were the labels she was signed with through her career.

Wrestling with personal esteem shadowed Washington throughout that career. Historians cite her many marriages, a focus on her weight, and feelings of self-doubt and insecurities. These elements led to a turn to prescription-drug use to try to balance things. A lethal mixture of some of these drugs led to an untimely death at the young age of 39 in 1963. She left us with the wealth of a legacy-worthy vocal body of work. Beautiful music from so much very personal struggle. What a little difference might’ve made.

The Artistry of… airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.