Dusty Springfield in 1966
|Born||Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien
16 April 1939
West Hampstead, North London, England, United Kingdom
|Died||2 March 1999
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Cause of death
|St. Mary the Virgin Church, Oxfordshire, England|
|Occupation||Singer, arranger, musician, record producer, television presenter|
|Home town||Ealing, London, England|
|Relatives||Tom Springfield (brother)|
|Genres||Pop, R&B, soul|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano, percussion|
Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien[note 1] OBE (16 April 1939 – 2 March 1999), known professionally as Dusty Springfield, was an English pop singer and record producer whose career extended from the late 1950s to the 1990s. With her distinctive sensual sound, she was an important blue-eyed soul singer and at her peak was one of the most successful British female performers, with six top 20 singles on the United States Billboard Hot 100 and sixteen on the United Kingdom Singles Chart from 1963 to 1989. She is a member of both the US Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame. International polls have named Springfield among the best female rock artists of all time. Her image, supported by a peroxide blonde bouffant hairstyle, evening gowns, and heavy make-up, made her an icon of the Swinging Sixties.
Born in West Hampstead, London to a family that enjoyed music, Springfield learned to sing at home. In 1958 she joined her first professional group, The Lana Sisters, and two years later formed a pop-folk vocal trio, The Springfields, with her brother Tom. Her solo career began in 1963 with the upbeat pop hit, "I Only Want to Be with You". Among the hits that followed were "Wishin' and Hopin'" (1964), "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" (1964), "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (1966), and "Son of a Preacher Man" (1968).
As a fan of US pop music, she brought many little-known soul singers to the attention of a wider UK record-buying audience by hosting the first national TV performance of many top-selling Motown artists beginning in 1965. Although she was never considered a Northern Soul artist in her own right, her efforts contributed a great deal to the formation of the genre as a result.
Partly owing to these efforts, a year later she eventually became the best-selling female singer in the world and topped a number of popularity polls, including Melody Maker's Best International Vocalist. She was the first UK singer to top the New Musical Express readers' poll for Female Singer.
To boost her credibility as a soul artist, Springfield went to Memphis, Tennessee to record Dusty in Memphis, an album of pop and soul music with the Atlantic Records main production team. Released in 1969, it has been ranked among the greatest albums of all time by the US magazine Rolling Stone and in polls by VH1 artists, New Musical Express readers, and Channel 4 viewers. The album was also awarded a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Despite its current recognition, the album did not sell well and after its release, Springfield experienced a career slump for several years. However, in collaboration with Pet Shop Boys, she returned to the Top 10 of the UK and US charts in 1987 with "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Two years later, she had two other UK hits on her own with "Nothing Has Been Proved" and "In Private." Subsequently in the mid-1990s, owing to the inclusion of "Son of a Preacher Man" on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, interest in her early output was revived.
Early life (1939–1957)
Dusty Springfield was born Mary O'Brien in West Hampstead, North London, England, on 16 April 1939, the second child of Gerard Anthony O'Brien (1904–1979), called "OB", and Catherine Anne (Ryle) O'Brien (1900–1974), called "Kay." Her older brother, Dionysius P A O'Brien (born 2 July 1934), was later known as Tom Springfield. Gerard, who had been raised in the British Raj, worked as a tax accountant and consultant. Catherine came from a family in County Kerry, Ireland, that included a number of journalists.
Springfield was raised in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, until the early 1950s and later lived in the West London borough of Ealing. She attended St Anne's Convent School, Northfields, a traditional all-girl school. The comfortable middle-class upbringing was disturbed by dysfunctional tendencies in the family; her father's perfectionism and her mother's frustrations would sometimes result in food-throwing incidents. Springfield and Tom were both prone to food throwing as adults. She was given the nickname "Dusty" for playing football with boys in the street, and was described as a tomboy.
Springfield was raised in a music-loving family. Her father would tap out rhythms on the back of her hand and encourage her to guess the musical piece. She listened to a wide range of music, including George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Glenn Miller. A fan of American jazz and the vocalists Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford, she wished to sound like them. At the age of twelve, she made a recording of herself performing the Irving Berlin song "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam" at a local record shop in Ealing.
Early career (1958–66)
After finishing school, Springfield sang with Tom in local folk clubs. In 1957 the pair worked together at holiday camps. The following year Springfield responded to an advertisement in The Stage to join The Lana Sisters, an "established sister act", with Iris 'Riss' Long (aka Riss Lana, Riss Chantelle) and Lynne Abrams (not actually sisters). She had changed her name to Shan, and "cut her hair, lost the glasses, experimented with makeup, fashion" to become one of the 'sisters'. As a member of the pop vocal trio, Springfield developed skills in harmonising and microphone technique and recorded, performed on TV, and played at live shows in the United Kingdom and at United States Air Force bases in continental Europe. In 1960, Springfield left The Lana Sisters and formed a pop-folk trio, The Springfields, with Tom and Reshad Feild (both ex-The Kensington Squares), who was replaced by Mike Hurst in 1962. The trio chose their name while rehearsing in a field in Somerset in the springtime and took the stage names of Dusty, Tom, and Tim Springfield. Intending to make an authentic US album, the group travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to record Folk Songs from the Hills. The local music that Springfield heard during this visit, in particular "Tell Him," helped turn her style from folk and country towards pop music rooted in rhythm and blues. The band was voted the "Top British Vocal Group" by the New Musical Express poll in 1961 and 1962. During early 1963, The Springfields recorded their last UK Top 5 hit, "Say I Won't Be There". The group appeared on ITV Associated Rediffusion's popular music TV series Ready Steady Go!. Springfield left the band after their final concert in October 1963. After the Springfields disbanded, Tom continued songwriting and producing for other artists, including Australian folk-pop group The Seekers, mid-1960s hits "I'll Never Find Another You" and "The Carnival is Over" (lyrics only), and he co-wrote their "Georgy Girl". He also wrote additional tracks for Springfield and released his own solo material.
In November 1963 Springfield released her first solo single, "I Only Want to Be with You," which was co-written and arranged by Ivor Raymonde. It was produced by Johnny Franz in a manner similar to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound," and included rhythm and blues features such as horn sections, backing singers, and double-tracked vocals, along with pop music strings, all in the style of girl groups that Springfield admired, such as the Exciters (whose version of "Tell Him" had inspired her to adopt a style oriented more towards rhythm and blues) and the Shirelles. It rose to No. 4 on the UK charts, leading to its nomination as a "Sure Shot" pick of records not yet charted in the US by New York disc jockey "Dandy" Dan Daniel of WMCA radio in December 1963, preceding Beatlemania. It remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks, peaking at No. 12. The B-side, "Once Upon a Time", was written by Springfield. The release finished as No. 48 on New York's WABC radio Top 100 for 1964. On 1 January 1964 "I Only Want to Be with You" was one of the first songs played on Top of the Pops, BBC-TV's new music programme. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc in the UK.
On 17 April 1964 Springfield issued her debut album A Girl Called Dusty which included mostly cover versions of her favourite songs. Among the tracks were "Mama Said," "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," "You Don't Own Me," and "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa." The album reached No. 6 in the UK in May 1964. The chart hits "Stay Awhile," "All Cried Out," and "Losing You" followed the same year. The B-side of "Stay Awhile" featured another self-penned track, "Somethin' Special," which Allmusic's Richie Unterberger described as "a first-rate Springfield original". However, Springfield declared: "I don't really see myself as a songwriter. I don't really like writing ... I just don't get any good ideas and the ones I do get are pinched from other records. The only reason I write is for the money – oh mercenary creature!" In 1964, Springfield recorded two Burt Bacharach songs: "Wishin' and Hopin'" – a US Top 10 hit – and the emotional "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself," which reached No. 3 on the UK chart. The latter song set the standard for much of her later material. In December 1964, Springfield's tour of South Africa was controversially terminated, and she was deported, after she performed for an integrated audience at a theatre near Cape Town, which was against the then government's segregation policy. Her contract specifically excluded segregated performances, one of the first British artists to do so. In the same year, she was voted the Top Female British Artist of the year in the New Musical Express poll, topping Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. Springfield received the award again for the next three years. During 1965, Springfield released three more UK Top 40 hits: "Your Hurtin' Kinda Love," "In the Middle of Nowhere," and the Carole King-penned "Some of Your Lovin'." However, these were not included on her next UK album, Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty, which was released in October 1965 and featured songs by Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, Rod Argent, and Randy Newman, and a cover of the traditional Mexican song, "La Bamba." The album peaked at No. 6 on the UK chart.
From 28 to 30 January 1965 Springfield took part in the Italian Song Festival in San Remo, and reached a semi-final with "Tu che ne sai?" (English:"What Do You Know?") but failed to qualify for the final. During the competition, she heard the song "Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)" performed by one of its composers Pino Donaggio and separately by US country music singer Jody Miller. Its English version, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," featured lyrics newly written by Springfield's friend Vicki Wickham and her future manager, Simon Napier-Bell. It was released in May 1966 and reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 4 in the US, where it was also No. 35 on the Billboard Top 100 for 1966. The song, which Springfield called "good old schmaltz," was voted among the All Time Top 100 Songs by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 in 1999.
There, standing on the staircase at Philips studio, singing into the stairwell, Dusty gave her greatest ever performance – perfection from first breath to last, as great as anything by Aretha Franklin or Sinatra or Pavarotti. Great singers can take mundane lyrics and fill them with their own meaning. This can help a listener's own ill-defined feelings come clearly into focus. Vicki [Wickham] and I had thought our lyric was about avoiding emotional commitment. Dusty stood it on its head and made it a passionate lament of loneliness and love.
Springfield introduced the Motown sound to a wider UK audience, both with her covers of Motown songs, and by facilitating the first UK TV appearance for The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, and Stevie Wonder on a special edition of the Ready Steady Go! show – which was produced by Wickham – called The Sound of Motown. On 28 April 1965 it was broadcast by Rediffusion TV, with Springfield opening each half of the show accompanied by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Motown's in-house band, The Funk Brothers. The associated Tamla-Motown Revue featuring The Supremes, The Miracles and Wonder had started in London in March, and according to The Supremes's Mary Wilson, the tour was a flop: "It's always ... disheartening when you go out there and you see the house is half-full ... but once you're on stage ... You perform as well for five as you do for 500." Wickham, a fan of the Motown artists, booked them for the Ready Steady Go! special and enlisted Springfield to host it. In 1966 Springfield released three additional UK Top 20 hits: "Little By Little" and two dramatic ballads – one written by Carole King: "Goin' Back" and "All I See Is You," written by Ben Weisman & Carl Westlake, which also reached the US Top 20. In August and September 1966, she hosted Dusty, a six-part music and talk show weekly BBC TV series. A compilation of her singles, Golden Hitsm released in November 1966, reached No. 2 in the UK. From the mid-1960s, Springfield would use the pseudonym "Gladys Thong" when recording backing vocals for other artists including Madeline Bell, Kiki Dee, Anne Murray and Elton John. Bell was a regular backing singer on early Springfield albums, and the pair co-wrote "I'm Gonna Leave You" with Lesley Duncan, which appeared as the B-side of "Goin' Back."
Late 1960s (1967–69)
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Dusty Springfield recorded the Bacharach-David composition "The Look of Love" for the James Bond parody film Casino Royale. For "one of the slowest-tempo hits" of the sixties, Bacharach created a "sultry" feel by the use of "minor-seventh and major-seventh chord changes", while Hal David's lyrics "epitomized longing and, yes, lust". This song was recorded in two versions at the Philips Studios of London. The soundtrack version was released on 29 January 1967 and the single version was out on 14 April. "The Look of Love" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song of 1967. In the western US, the song was a Top 10 radio hit on stations KGB-AM, San Diego and KHJ-AM, Los Angeles, and earned Springfield her highest place in the year's music charts at No. 22.
The second season of Dusty, which featured her rendition of "Get Ready" and her UK No. 13 hit, "I'll Try Anything", was broadcast in 1967. It attracted a healthy audience but the series did not keep up with changes in pop music. The comparatively progressive album Where Am I Going? (October 1967) attempted to redress this by containing a "jazzy", orchestrated version of "Sunny" and Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away". Though it was critically appreciated, it did not sell well in the US – it reached the top 40 in the UK. In November 1968, a similar fate befell Dusty... Definitely, which was not issued in the US, it reached the UK top 30. Her choice of material ranged from the rolling "Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone" to the aching emotion of "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today". In that same year, Springfield had a UK No. 4 hit, "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten", which was written by Clive Westlake. Its flipside, "No Stranger Am I", was co-written by Norma Tanega and Norma Kutzer. By late 1966, Springfield was in a domestic relationship with Tanega – a US-born singer-songwriter who had a UK Top 30 hit with the novelty song, "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog". Springfield's ITV series It Must Be Dusty was broadcast in May and June 1968, episode six featured a duet performance of "Mockingbird" with singer-guitarist Jimi Hendrix fronting his band, The Experience.
Dusty in Memphis (1968–1969)
By 1968 Carole King, a songwriter whom Springfield had frequently tapped for material, had embarked on a solo singing career, while her relationship with the chart-peaking Bacharach-David partnership was floundering. Springfield's status in the music industry was further complicated by the progressive music revolution and the uncomfortable split between what was underground and "fashionable" and what was pop and "unfashionable". Her performing career was limited to the UK touring circuit of working men's clubs, hotels and cabarets. Hoping to reinvigorate her career and boost her credibility, Springfield signed with Atlantic Records, the label of her idol, Aretha Franklin. The Memphis sessions at the American Sound Studio were produced by Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin; with the back-up vocal band Sweet Inspirations; and the instrumental band Memphis Cats, led by guitarist Reggie Young and bass guitarist Tommy Cogbill. The producers recognised that Springfield's natural soul voice should be placed at the forefront, rather than competing with full string arrangements. At first, Springfield felt anxious when compared with the soul greats who had recorded in the same studios. Springfield had never worked with just a rhythm track and it was her first time with outside producers – many of her previous recordings were self-produced, albeit uncredited. Wexler felt she had a "gigantic inferiority complex" and due to her pursuit of perfection, her vocals were re-recorded later in New York. In November during the Memphis sessions Springfield suggested to Wexler (one of the heads of Atlantic Records) that he should sign the newly formed UK band, Led Zeppelin. She knew their bass guitarist, John Paul Jones, from his session work on her earlier albums. Without ever having seen them and partly on her advice, Wexler signed Led Zeppelin to a $200,000 deal with Atlantic, which, at the time, was the biggest contract for a new band.
Sample from "Son of a Preacher Man", the lead single, from Dusty in Memphis. The track was a top 10 hit on the UK, US, Austrian and Swiss Singles Charts. Springfield was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1970. "Son of a Preacher Man" was used in the 1994 feature film, Pulp Fiction.
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The album Dusty in Memphis received excellent reviews on its initial releases both in the UK and US. Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone magazine wrote: "most of the songs ... have a great deal of depth while presenting extremely direct and simple statements about love ... Dusty sings around her material, creating music that's evocative rather than overwhelming ... Dusty is not searching – she just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it". Commercial and chart success failed to match critical success; the album did not crack the UK Top 15 and peaked at No. 99 on the Billboard 200, with sales of 100,000 copies. However, by 2001, the album had received the Grammy Hall of Fame award, and was listed among the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone, and in polls by VH1 artists, New Musical Express readers, and Channel 4 viewers.
In November 1968 the lead single from the album, "Son of a Preacher Man", was issued. It was written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins. It reached No. 10 on the UK, US and international singles charts. Its best results in continental Europe were No. 10 on the Austrian charts and No. 3 on the Swiss charts. It was the 96th most popular song of 1969 in the US. It earned Springfield a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1970. The writers of Rolling Stone magazine placed Springfield's release at No. 77 among 'The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years' in 1987. The record was placed at No. 43 of the 'Greatest Singles of All Time' by the writers of New Musical Express in 2002. In 2004, the song made the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at No. 240. In 1994 the song was featured in a scene of the film Pulp Fiction, and the soundtrack reached No. 21 on the Billboard 200, and at the time, went platinum (100,000 units) in Canada alone. "Son of a Preacher Man" helped the soundtrack album sell over 2 million copies in the US, and it reached No. 21 on the charts. During September and October 1969 Dusty hosted her third and final BBC musical variety series (her fourth variety series overall), Decidedly Dusty (co-hosted by Valentine Dyall). All eight episodes were later wiped from the BBC archives, and to date the only surviving footage consists of domestic audio recordings.
Later years (1970–1999)
By the start of the 1970s Dusty Springfield was a major star, though her record sales were declining. Her intimate companion, Norma Tanega, had returned to the US after their relationship had become stressful, and Springfield was spending more time in the US herself. In January 1970 her second and final album on Atlantic Records, A Brand New Me (re-titled as From Dusty... With Love in the UK), was released, it featured tracks written and produced by Gamble and Huff. The album and related singles only sold moderately, and Springfield was unhappy with both her management and record company. She sang back up vocals with her friend Madeline Bell on two tracks on Elton John's 1971 hit album, Tumbleweed Connection. She recorded some songs with producer Jeff Barry in early 1971, which were intended for an album to be released by Atlantic Records. However, her new manager Alan Bernard negotiated her out of the Atlantic contract; some of the tracks were used on the UK-only album, See All Her Faces (November 1972), and the 1999 release, Dusty in Memphis-Deluxe Edition. In 1972, Springfield signed a contract with ABC Dunhill Records and Cameo was issued in February 1973 to respectable reviews, though poor sales. In 1973, Springfield recorded the theme song for the TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man, which was used for two of its film-length episodes: "Wine, Women & War" and "The Solid Gold Kidnapping". Her second ABC Dunhill album was given the working title Elements and was then scheduled for release in late 1974 as Longing. However, the recording sessions were abandoned, although part of the material, including tentative and incomplete vocals, was issued on the 2001 posthumous compilation Beautiful Soul. By 1974 Springfield had put her solo musical career on hold to live as a recluse in the US and avoid scrutiny by UK tabloids. In the 1960s and early 1970s gay or bisexual performers "knew that being 'out' would lead to prurient media attention, loss of record contracts ... the tabloids became obsessively interested in the contents of celebrity closets". In the mid-1970s she sang background vocals on Elton John's album Caribou (June 1974), including his single "The Bitch Is Back"; and on Anne Murray's album Together (November 1975).
In the late 1970s Springfield released two albums on United Artists Records. The first was 1978's It Begins Again, produced by Roy Thomas Baker. The album peaked in the UK top 50 and was well received by critics. Her 1979 album, Living Without Your Love, did not reach the top 50. In early 1979, Springfield played club dates in New York City. In London, she recorded two singles with David Mackay for her UK label, Mercury Records (formerly Philips Records). The first was the disco-influenced "Baby Blue", which reached No. 61 in the UK. The second, "Your Love Still Brings Me to My Knees", released in January 1980, was Springfield's final single for Mercury Records; she had been with them for nearly 20 years. On 3 December 1979, she performed a charity concert for a full house at the Royal Albert Hall, in the presence of Princess Margaret. In 1980 Springfield sang "Bits and Pieces", the theme song from the movie The Stunt Man. She signed a US deal with 20th Century Records, which resulted in the single "It Goes Like It Goes", a cover of the Oscar-winning song from the film, Norma Rae. Springfield was uncharacteristically proud of her 1982 album White Heat, which was influenced by new wave music. She tried to revive her career in 1985 by returning to the UK and signing to Peter Stringfellow's Hippodrome Records label. This resulted in the single "Sometimes Like Butterflies" and an appearance on Terry Wogan's TV chat show, Wogan. None of Springfield's recordings from 1971 to 1986 charted on the UK Top 40 or Billboard Hot 100.
In 1987, she accepted an invitation from Pet Shop Boys to duet with their lead singer, Neil Tennant, on the single "What Have I Done to Deserve This?". Tennant cites Dusty in Memphis as one of his favourite albums, and he leapt at the suggestion of using Springfield's vocals for "What Have I Done To Deserve This?". She also appeared on the promotional video. The single rose to No. 2 on both the US and UK charts. It appeared on the Pet Shop Boys album Actually, and on both artists' greatest hits collections. Springfield sang lead vocals on the Richard Carpenter song "Something in Your Eyes", recorded for his album, Time (October 1987). Released as a single, it became a US No. 12 adult contemporary hit. Springfield recorded a duet with B. J. Thomas, "As Long as We Got Each Other," which was used as the opening theme for the US sitcom Growing Pains in season 4 (1988–9). (Thomas had collaborated with Jennifer Warnes on the original version, which was neither re-recorded with Warnes nor released as a single.) It was issued as a single and reached No. 7 on the Adult Contemporary Singles Chart.
In 1988 a new compilation, The Silver Collection, was issued. Springfield returned to the studio with Pet Shop Boys, who produced her recording of their song "Nothing Has Been Proved", commissioned for the soundtrack of the 1989 drama film, Scandal. Released as a single in February 1989, it gave Springfield her fifteenth UK Top 20 hit. In November its follow-up, the upbeat "In Private", also written and produced by Pet Shop Boys, peaked at No. 14. She capitalised on this by recording the 1990 album Reputation, her third UK Top 20 studio album. The writing and production credits for half the album, which included the two recent hit singles, went to Pet Shop Boys, while the album's other producers included Dan Hartman. By 1988 Springfield had left California and, other than when recording tracks for Reputation, she returned to the UK to live. In 1993, she recorded a duet with her former 1960s professional rival and friend, Cilla Black. In October, "Heart and Soul" was released as a single and, in September it had appeared on Black's album, Through the Years. Springfield's next album, provisionally titled Dusty in Nashville, was started in 1993 with producer, Tom Shapiro, but was issued as A Very Fine Love in June 1995. Though originally intended by Shapiro as a country music album, the track selection by Springfield pushed the album into pop music with an occasional country feel.
In the middle of 1994, Springfield was diagnosed with breast cancer. The last studio track Springfield recorded was George and Ira Gershwin's song "Someone to Watch Over Me" – in London in 1995 for an insurance company TV ad. It was included on Simply Dusty (2000), an anthology that she had helped plan. Her final live performance was on The Christmas with Michael Ball special in December 1995.
Influenced by US pop music, Dusty Springfield created a distinctive blue-eyed soul sound. BBC News noted "[h]er soulful voice, at once strident and vulnerable, set her apart from her contemporaries ... She was equally at home singing Broadway standards, blues, country or even techno-pop". Allmusic's Jason Ankeny described her as:
finest white soul singer of her era, a performer of remarkable emotional resonance whose body of work spans the decades and their attendant musical transformations with a consistency and purity unmatched by any of her contemporaries ... the sultry intimacy and heartbreaking urgency of [her] voice transcended image and fashion, embracing everything from lushly orchestrated pop to gritty R&B to disco with unparalleled sophistication and depth.
Most responses to her voice emphasise her breathy sensuality. Another powerful feature was the sense of longing, in songs such as "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" and "Goin' Back". The uniqueness of Springfield's voice was described by Bacharach: "You could hear just three notes and you knew it was Dusty". Wexler declared, "[h]er particular hallmark was a haunting sexual vulnerability in her voice, and she may have had the most impeccable intonation of any singer I ever heard". Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone captured Springfield's technique as "a soft, sensual box (voice) that allowed her to combine syllables until they turned into pure cream." She had a finely tuned musical ear and extraordinary control of tone. She sang in a variety of styles, mostly pop, soul, folk, Latin, and rock'n'roll. Being able to wrap her voice around difficult material, her repertoire included songs that their writers ordinarily would have offered to black vocalists. In the 1960s, on several occasions, she performed as the only white singer on all-black bills. Her soul orientation was so convincing that early in her solo career, US listeners who had only heard her music on radio or records sometimes assumed that she was African American. Later, a considerable number of critics observed that she sounded black and American or made a point of saying she did not.
Springfield consistently used her voice to upend commonly held beliefs on the expression of social identity through music. She did this by referencing a number of styles and singers, including Martha Reeves, Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Peggy Lee, Astrud Gilberto, and Mina. Springfield instructed UK backup musicians to capture the spirit of US musicians and copy their instrumental playing styles. In the studio, she was a perfectionist. The fact that she could neither read nor write music made it hard to communicate with session musicians. During extensive vocal sessions, she repeatedly recorded short phrases and single words. Despite producing many tracks, she did not take credit for doing so. The Philips Record company's studio was slated as "an extremely dead studio", it felt as though it had turned the treble down which meant one could not get an edge, "There was no ambience and it was like singing in a padded cell. I had to get out of there". Springfield would end up in the ladies' toilets for its superior acoustics. Another example of refusal to use the studio is "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten" – it was recorded at the end of a corridor. When recording songs, headphones were typically set as high in volume as possible – at a decibel level "on the threshold of pain".
Dusty Springfield was one of the best-selling UK singers of the 1960s. She was voted the Top Female Singer (UK) by the readers of the New Musical Express in 1964 to 1966 and Top Female Singer in 1965 to 1967 and 1969. Of the female singers of the British Invasion, Springfield made one of the biggest impressions on the US market, scoring 18 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1970 including six in the top 20. The music press considers her an iconic figure of the Swinging Sixties. Quentin Tarantino caused a revival of interest in her music in 1994 by including "Son of a Preacher Man" in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, which sold over three million copies. In that same year, in the documentary, Dusty Springfield. Full Circle, guests of her 1965 Sound of Motown show credited Springfield's efforts with popularising US soul music in the UK.
Springfield was popular in Europe and performed at the Sanremo Music Festival. Recordings were released in French, German, and Italian: her French works include a 1964 four-track extended play with "Demain tu peux changer" (aka "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"), "Je ne peux pas t'en vouloir" ("Losing You"), "L'été est fini" ("The Summer Is Over") and "Reste encore un instant" ("Stay Awhile"); German recordings include the July 1964 single, "Warten und hoffen" ("Wishin' and Hopin'") backed with "Auf dich nur wart' ich immerzu" ("I Only Want to Be with You"); Italian recordings include "Tanto so che poi mi passa" ("Every Day I Have to Cry") issued as a single. Her entries at the Sanremo festival were "Tu che ne sai" and "Di fronte all'amore" ("I Will Always Want You").
Dusty Springfield is a cultural icon of the Swinging Sixties where she "was an instantly recognisable celebrity". In public and on stage Springfield developed a joyful image supported by her peroxide blonde bouffant hairstyle, evening gowns, and heavy make-up that included her much-copied "panda eye" mascara.[note 2] Springfield borrowed elements of her look from blonde glamour queens such as Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve and pasted them together according to her own taste. By the 1990s she had also become a camp icon, with her ultra-glamorous look and this, combined with her emotive vocal performances, won her a powerful and enduring following in the gay community. Besides the prototypical female for drag queens, she was presented in the roles of the 'Great White Lady' of pop and soul and the 'Queen of Mods'.
Awards and tributes
Dusty Springfield is an inductee of both the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999) and the UK Music Hall of Fame (2006). She has been placed among the top 25 female artists of all time by readers of Mojo magazine (May 1999), editors of Q magazine (January 2002), and a panel of artists on VH1 TV channel (August 2007). In 2008, Dusty appeared at No. 35 on the Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". In the 1960s she topped a number of popularity polls, including Melody Maker's Best International Vocalist for 1966; in 1965 she was the first British singer to top the New Musical Express readers' polls for Female Singer, and topped that poll again in 1966, 1967, and 1969 as well as gaining the most votes in the British Singer category from 1964 to 1966. Her album Dusty in Memphis has been listed among the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone and in polls by VH1 artists, New Musical Express readers, and the Channel 4 viewers, and in 2001, received the Grammy Hall of Fame award. In March 1999 Springfield was scheduled to go to Buckingham Palace to receive her award of Officer, Order of the British Empire. Due to the recurrence of the singer's breast cancer, officials of Queen Elizabeth II gave permission for the medal to be collected earlier, in January, by Wickham and it was presented to Springfield in hospital with a small group of friends and relatives attending. She died on the day that she would otherwise have collected her award from the Palace.
Various films and stage musicals have been created or proposed to commemorate her life. On 12 January 2006 an Australian stage musical, Dusty – The Original Pop Diva, received its world premiere at the State Theatre of the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne. In May 2008, actress Nicole Kidman was announced as star and producer of a biopic, but, as of July 2012, it was yet to surface. Another reported candidate for a role as Springfield was Madonna in a TV film project. Universal Pictures scheduled another biopic with The West Wing's Kristin Chenoweth in the starring role, however, according to Chenoweth, in January 2012, "[w]e had a script that needed a lot of work" and she did not know where the project was up to. In 1970 US jazz singer-pianist, Blossom Dearie, recorded a tribute song, "Dusty Springfield", on her album, That's Just the Way I Want to Be – it was co-written by Dearie, Tanega (Springfield's then-partner) and Jim Council. UK singer-songwriter David Westlake on his 2002 release, Play Dusty for Me, "fêted [Springfield] in both the album title and opening title track". US singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne's tenth studio album Just a Little Lovin' (2008) was issued as a tribute. In 2012, a biographical jukebox musical titled Forever Dusty opened Off-Broadway in New York City at New World Stages. The production starred Kirsten Holly Smith as Springfield. Smith also co-wrote the book of the musical.
From 1962, Springfield's parents lived in Hove, where Catherine died in 1976 of lung cancer in a nursing home. In 1979 Gerard had a fatal heart attack in nearby Rottingdean. Some of Springfield's biographers and journalists have speculated that she had two personalities: shy, quiet, Mary O'Brien – and the public face she had created as Dusty Springfield. An editorial review at Publishers Weekly of Valentine and Wickham's 2001 biography, Dancing with Demons, finds "...the confidence [Springfield] exuded on vinyl was a facade masking severe insecurities, addictions to drink and drugs, bouts of self-harm and fear of losing her career if exposed as a lesbian". Simon Bell, one of Springfield's session singers, disputed the twin personality description, "...it's very easy to decide there are two people, Mary and Dusty, but they were the one person. Dusty was most definitely Dusty right to the end".
In her early career, much of her odd behaviour was seen as more or less in fun – described as a "wicked" sense of humour – including her food fights and hurling crockery down stairs. Springfield had a great love for animals – particularly cats – and became an advocate for animal-protection groups. She enjoyed reading maps and would intentionally get lost to navigate her way out. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Springfield's alcoholism and drug dependency affected her musical career. She was hospitalised several times for self-harm – by cutting herself – and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Springfield was never reported to be in a heterosexual relationship and this meant that the issue of her sexual orientation was raised frequently during her life. From mid-1966 to the early 1970s Springfield lived in a domestic partnership with fellow singer Norma Tanega. In September 1970, Springfield told Ray Connolly of the Evening Standard:
many other people say I'm bent, and I've heard it so many times that I've almost learned to accept it ... I know I'm perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don't see why I shouldn't.
I mean, people say that I'm gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I'm not anything. I'm just ... People are people... I basically want to be straight ... I go from men to women; I don't give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can't love a man. Now, that's my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition ... They frighten me.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Springfield became involved in several romantic relationships with women in Canada and the US that were not kept secret from the gay and lesbian community. From late 1972 to 1978, Springfield had an "off and on" domestic relationship with Faye Harris, a US photojournalist. In 1981 she had a six-month love affair with singer-musician Carole Pope of the rock band Rough Trade. During periods of psychological and professional instability, Springfield's involvement in some intimate relationships, influenced by addiction, resulted in episodes of personal injury.
In 1982 Springfield met an American actress, Teda Bracci, at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – in April 1983 the pair moved in together and seven months later they exchanged vows at a wedding ceremony which was not legally recognised under California law. The pair had a "tempestuous" relationship which led to an altercation with both Springfield and Bracci hospitalised – Springfield had been smashed in the mouth by Bracci wielding a saucepan and had teeth knocked out requiring plastic surgery. The pair had separated within two years.
In January 1994 while recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in Nashville, Dusty Springfield felt ill. When she returned to the United Kingdom a few months later, her physicians diagnosed breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and the cancer was in temporary remission. In 1995, in apparent good health, Springfield set about promoting the album. In mid-1996 the cancer had returned, and in spite of vigorous treatments, she died in Henley-on-Thames on 2 March 1999. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, had been scheduled two weeks after her death. Her friend Elton John helped induct her into the Hall of Fame, declaring, "I'm biased but I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been ... Every song she sang, she claimed as her own."
Springfield's funeral service was attended by hundreds of fans and people from the music business, including Elvis Costello, Lulu, and Pet Shop Boys. It took place in Oxfordshire, at the ancient parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, in Henley-on-Thames, where Springfield had lived during her last years. A marker dedicated to her memory was placed in the church graveyard. Springfield was cremated and some of her ashes were buried at Henley, while the rest were scattered by her brother, Tom Springfield, at the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland.
- 1964 – A Girl Called Dusty
- 1965 – Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty
- 1967 – Where Am I Going?
- 1968 – Dusty... Definitely
- 1969 – Dusty in Memphis
- 1970 – A Brand New Me
- 1972 – See All Her Faces
- 1973 – Cameo
- 1978 – It Begins Again
- 1979 – Living Without Your Love
- 1982 – White Heat
- 1990 – Reputation
- 1995 – A Very Fine Love
Dusty Springfield was the presenter or host of several TV musical series:
|1965||The Sound of Motown||Special episode of Ready Steady Go!|
|1966–1967||Dusty||Two seasons each of six weekly parts|
|1968||It Must Be Dusty||Nine regular weekly episodes and followed by a Christmas special, All Kinds of Music|
|1969||Decidedly Dusty||Eight weekly episodes|
- ^ Different sources use either Isobel or Isabel as the spelling of her second name. For Isobel see Gulla, here. For Isabel see Britannica Online Encyclopedia.
- For blond beehive hair-dos and "Panda" eye make-up, see Welch.
- For peroxide hair and heavy make-up, see Silverton.
- For public and on-stage image, see Cole.
- For hairstyle and eye make-up described as "blond bouffant and thick black Cleopatra eyeliner", see Taylor.
- For image, hairstyle and make-up, see Smith.
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