Dinah Washington led a prolific and successful career, but died before her time due to weight loss drugs.
Dinah Washington was born in Alabama in 1924 as Ruth Lee Jones, who grew up to be the most recorded black woman artist of her time. She made her debut recording at age 20 for Keynote records, performing alongside jazz greats like Milt Buckner and Joe Morris, and her first two songs made it onto the Billboard “Harlem Parade” chart. She moved over to Mercury Records a few years later, beginning a long and prolific career as one of the best jazz singers who have ever lived.
Take a listen to “If I Had You,” but make sure you grab a martini first, because that’s the best way to listen to jazz. Shaken, not stirred.
“Lord there’s nothing I couldn’t do if I had you!”
Over the course of her career, Dinah Washington recorded an immense catalogue of songs, releasing 447 tracks on 21 albums. She was the first woman to play LAs Vegas and was known for being a serious Boss when it came to music. She didn’t respect musicians who didn’t take their career seriously, and more than once got into arguments that halted recording when someone didn’t know their part. She was absolutely precise in how she presented herself to the media, preferring to be known as “Dinah the bitch” rather than as the kind, loyal, creative woman she was. She was a woman who always carried a pistol with her to defend herself, a necessity in the times of Jim Crow laws. While performing in a club in the South, she and her backing musicians were forced to escape out a bathroom window while the audience rioted and destroyed the club, because the local sheriff wouldn’t allow blacks and whites to perform on stage together.
The Queen of the Blues died tragically in 1963 at age 39, in the midst of a successful career. She died at home in Detroit and was found by her husband when he woke up to find her unresponsive in the morning. Some reports suggest that her death was an effect of mixing alcohol and weight reduction pills — because who cares if a hugely gifted musician dies as a result of dodgy weight loss pills, at least she was skinny in her coffin, right? She is part of a pool of premature deaths caused by weight loss, including Karen Carpenter and Cass Elliot. A tragic death and a tragic loss for the music community.
In 1993, Washington was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in the same year, the United States Postal Service released a commemorative postage stamp in her honor.