Ruth Brown

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 (


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

Pie), 1947–1991.