DINAH WASHINGTON Queen of the Blues

Dinah Washington

With World War Two in full swing, the shape of Western music was turning a significant corner which laid out the basis of music to come.

Dinah Washington

Over in the States, black orientated music was climbing over the barriers that had held black and white music apart from each other. In the early 1940’s, big bands of predominately black musicians devised a beat, which was soon to be titled ‘jump blues.’

It was a faster paced version of legendary blues, yet, this music was happy, hopeful and above all, it had a magnetic force which drew masses of people to the dance floors. Since it had been tagged to black blues, it wasn’t long before it furnished the room of what we still know today as Rhythm and Blues.

The main difference between these two genres was quite simple. Jump music had focused on the delightful and energetic musicians creating, fundamentally non vocal pieces. Musicians literally flew across the stage whilst still playing in tune, they jumped off the tops of piano’s and generally fooled around to entertain the audience, whipping them up into a dance frenzy.

The genre of Rhythm and Blues was actually, the complete opposite. Still using the same instrumental basis as Jump, Rhythm and Blues’ musicians, sat down like their white swing counterparts whilst a, mostly, solitary singer stood in front on the stage.?It was not at all surprising that it was from Rhythm and Blues that we generated some of the twentieth century’s greatest, most powerful singers. The basic line up around the forties and fifties was female artists. It is here, that we pick up with probably the greatest, and most loved of them all, Dinah Washington.

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Queen of the Blues, a 4-CD deluxe bookset contains highlights from Dinah Washington’s prolific recordings made between 1945 and 1962. It demonstrates her consummate ability to span a wide variety of musical styles, from Jazz to Popular, from Gospel to Blues, taking us through the very pinnacle of her outstanding career.

She touched on the hearts of many listeners in her day with her sweet, soulful vocals and catchy melodies. Singing for songwriters such as Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, she came from, like most of her contemporaries, from Gospel music inherited from by parents.

Starting out as a jazz singer, she left her piano and choir days behind and reached out to ‘the devil’s’ music’ at the age of nineteen.

This album takes us through her recording life right up to the year before she died from heart failure, induced by a drugs overdose in 1963 at the tender age of only 39. The haunting ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eye’s’ opens this unique album closely followed by two Cole Porter classic’s ‘Every time We Say Goodbye’ and ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You,’ which was a bigger hit for Frank Sinatra.

We will find just about all the songs on this album recognisable from somewhere, either from other artists or from films, musicals and soundtracks of old and new. The timeless, ‘Mad About The Boy,’ has become a track that has captured the true spirit of Dinah Washington in many ways. Her ability to create a mood of a song just by tuning her own mood into the lyrics. Her vocal, dropped and the diva becomes translucent as she appears to blend in with the accompaniment.

In no real categorical order, this album actually works better as it mixes the tracks of different ages, giving the illusion that the lady is still among us. Allowing her music and her distinctive voice to move around us, she stays, timeless, herself. Her notes are still very much harmonious with today’s music. She adapted each style to fit her extraordinary vocal range. She had great power behind some remarkable high notes yet could whisper something so low and faint in the next bar. She has truly, through this album, become an icon of twentieth century music, and so this album, just proves to us, that she could apply her voice to anything and everything.

For any curious blues/jazz fans, this is a must-have gem. With an abundance of cool swingers being brought from the fifties and sixties to join us in the record collections of the twenty first century, this surely has a place too. If you enjoyed Nina Simone and delighted over Billie Holiday or even hooked your ears into Ray Charles and wanted to expand your tastes even further, then I recommend this album to add to your precious collection. It will transport you back to the classiest era of strong voices, mood-shifting tunes that music history had ever created.


Illustration: Sablan Bruni