The Divine Ruth Brown!
What’s not to like about the divine Ruth Brown, she’s sassy, brassy, and fierce! A triple threat for anyone that got in her way or tried to make her do something she didn’t want to do. She also paved the pathway and laid down the foundation for future generations of artists to come. Furthermore, she could belt out any style of music and completely make it her own.
While the song below is normally a faster version, I like this one only because it’s more jazzed out and her expressions are priceless. Most of all, slapping that tambourine on her hip tells us all that she means business and you better pay attention! Whether it’s singing, acting or going after labels and record executives, she had a special way of expressing herself once she got motivated.
Singing at the early age of four in her father’s church choir in Portsmouth, Virginia. She knew at an early age in life that she was destined to become a singer performing for an audience. Finding her inspiration by listening to Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Dinah Washington she starts honing her skills along the way. At age seventeen, she decides that there is more to see in the world than living in Portsmouth Virginia. So, she befriends a trumpet player that she meets named Jimmy Brown.
Shortly after they get married and head out of town to see the world while singing at bars and clubs. There’s a falling out when they’re in Washington, D.C. but lucky for her she meets a few people that help. Basically, they get her a gig at a club called the Crystal Caverns where she’s gets discovered by Willis Conover, a Voice of America disc jockey. He recommends her to Atlantic Records. Atlantic Records offers her a contract and a performance at the Apollo in New York City.
A Life Change & Second Chance
Just when things start looking up for Ruth, and her shot at stardom is on the horizon, disaster happens. Unfortunately, she misses that performance at the Apollo but instead ends up in the hospital after a serious car accident. She spends almost a year in the hospital, and, during this time, her husband abandons her, What does she do? She gets out of the hospital, does an audition, and nails it. The first Song she sings at her addition is “So Long”, which became a hit followed by “Teardrops from My Eyes” in 1950, it was the first upbeat major hit for Ruth Brown, establishing her as an important figure in Rhythm & Bues.
It was on Billboard’s List of number-one R&B hits for eleven weeks. The huge hit earns her the nickname “Miss Rhythm”, and within a few months Ruth Brown became the acknowledged queen of R&B. Between 1951 thru 1960 she has seven hits with Atlantic records. She’s on the R&B charts for 149 weeks from 1949 to 1955, with sixteen top-ten blues records including five number ones, and became Atlantic’s most popular artist, earning Atlantic records the proper name of “The House that Ruth Built”.
Although she has several hits on the Billboard Charts in the 1960s, she’s still struggling as an artist. Meanwhile, Atlantic profits from her music and performances by making her pay-out-of-pocket for her tours and recordings. She leaves Atlantic Records with nothing to show for it and works regular jobs for over a decade. She returns to music in 1975 at the urging of the comedian Redd Foxx, followed by a series of comedic acting jobs. This launches her career in TV, film, and stage. She stars as Motormouth Maybelle Stubb in the John Waters iconic film Hairspray; she performs on Broadway where she earns a Tony Award in 1989.
Brown’s fight for musicians’ rights and royalties in 1987 leads to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1988. She releases another album and is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Furthermore, she records with Charles Brown, has a radio program called Blues Stage and tours with Bonnie Raitt in the 1990s. As you can see, she’s making up for lost time, and she’s getting the recognition she deserves. Sadly, she passes in 2006 at the age of 78. To this day, she’s still an inspiration for many artists. Brown became a musical pioneer.