Ruth Brown was one of the biggest R&B-soul stars of the 1950s.
After years of being ignored by the record industry, Brown resurrected
her career, on Broadway, in the '80s. Brown's influence was recognized
by her 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Brown was born Ruth Weston, on Jan. 30, 1928, in Portsmouth, Va. She
sang in a church choir as a teenager and won a talent contest at New
York's famed Apollo Theatre. Brown's jazz inspirations were singers
such as Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday.
After running away from home, to marry trumpeter Jimmy Brown, she joined
Lucky Millinder's big band and sang in similar musical ensembles
throughout the '40s. While performing in a Washington, D.C., club, Brown
impressed a DJ, who brought her to the attention of the young Atlantic
Records. But on the way to signing a contract with the label, Brown was
injured in a car accident that landed her in a Philadelphia hospital
for a year.
Brown was back on her feet in 1949, the same year "So Long" was to
inaugurate her long string of hits for Atlantic. The R&B smashes that
followed included "Teardrops From My Eyes," "Mambo Baby" and "(Mama)
He Treats Your Daughter Mean," which was recorded with Ray Charles'
band. The singer's peers called her "Miss Rhythm" (the title of her
1996 autobiography), and, after her performances in famed DJ Alan Freed's
rock 'n' roll shows, she began hitting the pop charts. Brown made the
top 40 with Bobby Darin's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin' " and "Lucky
Lips," the latter of which was written by the legendary songwriting
team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Though the industry began calling Atlantic Records "the house that Ruth
built," Brown left the label in 1961 and floundered on the Philips label.
She retired from music for a decade, then resumed recording more blues-
and jazz-oriented material in the '70s. She also co-starred in McLean
Stevenson's short-lived TV sitcom "Hello, Larry."
But Brown's greatest renewal came in the '80s, on Broadway. After
co-starring in the 1986 off-Broadway musical "Staggerlee," she won a
Tony Award for her role in the musical "Black and Blue," in 1989. The
previous year, she was featured in John Waters' film "Hairspray." In
1991, Brown released Fine and Mellow on Fantasy Records, and
in 1993 The Songs of My Life. She also began hosting National
Public Radio's "Harlem Hit Parade" and "BluesStage."
After spending years fighting to recoup royalties from Atlantic, Brown
helped form the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, an organization that aids
artists in situations similar to hers with Atlantic; in the process,
she became a spokesperson for musicians wronged by their labels.
Little Richard has called Brown's aggressive vocalizing a big influence,
while Bonnie Raitt, another huge Brown fan, sang on "I'm Gonna Move to
the Outskirts of Town," from R&B = Ruth Brown (1997), which also
featured Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
Last year, Brown released A Good Day for the Blues (
HREF="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Emm-XXXXXX%2F0186889_0101_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt of title track
excerpt of title track), for which she is nominated this year
for a Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy.
Other birthdays on Sunday: Joe Terranova (Danny and the Juniors), 59;
Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane), 57; Clifford Leon Anderson (Cure),
49; Marv Ross (Quarterflash), 49; Steve Bartek (Oingo Boingo), 48;
Mark Eitzel, 41; Jody Watley, 41; Steve Marriott (Small Faces, Humble