60s Music

The Life and Music of Ruth Brown

Introduction to Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown performing in 2005. (Source: Wikipedia)

Ruth Brown was an American blues singer who brought elements of pop music into her usual blues and R&B repertoire. It was under Atlantic Records where Brown gained prominence especially during the 50s music era, scoring a series of Top 10 R&B hits like “So Long,” “I’ll Wait For You,” “I Know,” “Wild Wild Young Men,” “Mend Your Ways,” “As Long As I’m Moving,” “I Can See Everybody’s Baby,” “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day),” “I Want to Do More,” “Sweet Baby of Mine,” “Lucky Lips,” “This Girl’s Gone Rockin’,” “I Don’t Know” and “Don’t Deceive Me” which became certified oldies music gems. She achieved five #1 R&B singles: “Teardrops from My Eyes,” “5-10-15 Hours,” “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” “Oh What a Dream” and “Mambo Baby.” When she returned from semi-retirement in the 1970s, she made her mark once again by acting in comic gigs and musicals. She won the Tony Award as “Best Female Star of a Musical” for her work in the musical play Black and Blue. Brown also received a Grammy for “Best Female Jazz Artist” for her LP Blues on Broadway. She founded the Rhythm and Blues Fundation in 1987 to uphold the rights and royalties of her fellow artists and was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and 1992, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year later. She died in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 17, 2006, aged 78.

 

 

The early years of Ruth Brown

The American R&B singer-songwriter and actress Ruth Brown enjoyed her glorious days in the 1950’s with “Teardrops from My Eyes,” “5-10-15 Hours,” “So Long,” and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” to name a few. She was born Ruth Alston Weston on January 12, 1928 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Her father, who worked as a stevedore, worked as a director for the local church choir. Needless to say, Brown grew up singing gospel songs but she also came to be interested in secular music as well. Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday were among her earliest influences.

So eager to pursue her career, the 17-year old Brown left her home in Portsmouth in 1945 to elope with Jimmy Brown, a trumpeter also known as “Jumpin’ Jimmy Brown.” Later, the two married and she started singing for Lucky Millinder’s orchestra for a month.

 

Brown’s career at its peak

In the mid-1940’s, bandleader and Brown’s future manager Blanche Calloway organized a gig for her at Crystal Caverns, a nightclub located in Washington D.C. It was in that club where she was spotted by the Voice of America disc jockey Willis Conover who would help later Brown to get signed to Atlantic Records. During that time Brown needed to stay in the hospital for nine months due to a serious car accident, so she signed the contract while still bedridden.

 

 

 

 

 

Shortly after her discharge from the hospital, Brown released “So Long” that would later become her first hit which peaked at #4 on the R&B chart in 1949. The follow-up single “Teardrops from My Eyes” was a bigger success, ranking at #1 on the same chart in 1950. Her first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 was in 1953 with “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” that reached at #23 while it was #1 on the R&B chart. In 1954, Brown scored R&B chart-toppers once again with “Oh What a Dream” and “Mambo Baby.” From 1957 to 1962, she was quite consistent earning slot on the pop charts, among of these singles were “Lucky Lips” (#25, 1957), “This Little Girl’s Gone” (#24, 1958), “I Don’t Know” (#64, 1959) and “You Don’t Deceive Me” (#62,1960). However, these singles were high-ranking on the r&B charts.

 

Later years and Brown’s death

In 1989, Brown was inducted as the Pioneer Award recipient in the first year of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. In 1992 and 1993, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame respectively.

On November 17, 2006, 78-year old Brown died from complications from heart attack and stroke. On January 22, 2007, a tribute concert was held at the Abbysinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York to celebrate Brown’s life and music.

 

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