When Elton John inducted the late British pop siren Dusty Springfield into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, he was effusive in his praise. John said when he first heard Springfield, he "joined her fan club. ... [I] never heard a white woman sing like that before. ... I think she is the greatest white singer there ever has been."
Springfield was born Mary O'Brien in London, in 1939. She had her first hits in the early '60s as one-third of the British folk-pop trio the Springfields, which also included her brother, Tom. Those hits included "Island of Dreams" and the much-covered "Silver Threads and Golden Needles."
In 1963 the group broke up, and Dusty reinvented herself as a soul-pop singer. She made a big impression by holding her own in a duet with Martha Reeves on the British TV program "Ready, Steady, Go."
Inspired by Motown, girl groups and such American soul acts as the Staple Singers, Springfield enjoyed a number of mid-'60s hits with arranger Ivor Raymonde, who created his own sort of Phil Spector-influenced pop rock on such Springfield tracks as "I Only Want to Be With You," "Stay Awhile," "Wishin' and Hopin' " (Real Audio excerpt), "Losing You," and "In the Middle of Nowhere." All of these songs charted high in both England and the United States between 1964 and 1966.
Springfield's fame always remained greater in her home country than in the States. She spent the '60s covering top material by such songwriting teams as Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Holland-Dozier-Holland. In 1966, Springfield had a big hit with an adaptation of an Italian pop song, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."
After signing with Atlantic Records in the United States, Springfield reached her artistic peak. She hooked up with American soul musicians and Aretha Franklin's late-'60s production team for the 1969 classic Dusty In Memphis.
The LP featured her takes on songs by Bacharach, Randy Newman and others and featured her last big global hit, "Son of a Preacher Man" (RealAudio excerpt). The album was critically acclaimed worldwide as a classic of blue-eyed soul-pop. The next year's A Brand New Me was produced by Philadelphia's famous Gamble-Huff soul team.
Springfield then moved to the United States, where she recorded sporadically and with little success in the '70s. She sat out most of the '80s music scene, except for her collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys on the big 1987 hit "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"
Though her voice remained strong, Springfield's career continued to decline. Her 1995 adult-contemporary pop LP, A Very Fine Love, was mostly panned.
In her last few years, Springfield battled breast cancer. At the 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, one year before she would be inducted, Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner asked the audience to pray for Springfield's recovery. On March 2, two weeks before this year's induction ceremony, Springfield died at her home near London. Her manager, Vicki Wickham, accepted her trophy.
Along with her music, Springfield will be remembered for her ostentatious bouffant wigs and hairdos, which added an indelible visual complement to her unique voice. John said he was with Springfield once when she bought a can of hair spray, and "by the time we got to the register, it was gone."
Other birthdays: Bobby Vinton, 64; Gerry Rafferty (Stealers Wheel), 52; John Bentley (ex-Squeeze), 48; Paul Buchanan (Blue Nile), 43; Ian MacKaye (Fugazi), 36; Jimmy Osmond, 36; Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), 35; Roy Hamilton, 1929-1969; and Selena, 1971-1995.