Brown performing at the 2005
Bull Durham Blues Festival
|Birth name||Ruth Alston Weston|
January 12, 1928|
Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||November 17, 2006
Henderson, Nevada, U.S.
|Genres||Pop, R&B, jazz, soul, gospel, funk|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, keyboards|
|Labels||Atlantic, Philips, Fantasy|
Ruth Brown (January 12, 1928 – November 17, 2006) was an American singer-songwriter and actress, sometimes known as the "Queen of R&B". She was noted for bringing a pop music style to R&B music in a series of hit songs for Atlantic Records in the 1950s, such as "So Long", "Teardrops from My Eyes" and "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean". For these contributions, Atlantic became known as "The house that Ruth built" (alluding to the popular nickname for Old Yankee Stadium).
Following a resurgence that began in the mid-1970s and peaked in the 1980s, Brown used her influence to press for musicians' rights regarding royalties and contracts, which led to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. Her performances in the Broadway musical Black and Blue earned Brown a Tony Award, and the original cast recording won a Grammy Award.
Born Ruth Alston Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia, she was the eldest of seven siblings. She attended I. C. Norcom High School, which was then legally segregated. Brown's father was a dockhand who directed the local church choir, but the young Ruth showed more interest in singing at USO shows and nightclubs. She was inspired by Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Dinah Washington.
In 1945, aged 17, Brown ran away from her home in Portsmouth along with the trumpeter Jimmy Brown, whom she soon married, to sing in bars and clubs. She then spent a month with Lucky Millinder's orchestra.
Blanche Calloway, Cab Calloway's sister, also a bandleader, arranged a gig for Brown at the Crystal Caverns, a nightclub in Washington, D.C., and soon became her manager. Willis Conover, the future Voice of America disc jockey, caught her act with Duke Ellington and recommended her to Atlantic Records bosses Ahmet Ertegün and Herb Abramson. Brown was unable to audition as planned because of a car crash, which resulted in a nine-month stay in the hospital. She signed with Atlantic Records from her hospital bed.
In her first audition, in 1949, she sang "So Long," which became a hit. This was followed by "Teardrops from My Eyes" in 1950. Written by Rudy Toombs, it was the first upbeat major hit for Brown. Recorded for Atlantic Records in New York City in September 1950 and released in October, it was Billboard's R&B number one for 11 weeks. The hit earned her the nickname "Miss Rhythm", and within a few months she became the acknowledged queen of R&B.
She followed up this hit with "I'll Wait for You" (1951), "I Know" (1951), "5-10-15 Hours" (1953), "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (1953), "Oh What a Dream" (1954), "Mambo Baby" (1954), and "Don't Deceive Me" (1960), some of which were credited to Ruth Brown and the Rhythm Makers. Between 1949 and 1955, her records stayed on the R&B chart for a total of 149 weeks, with sixteen Top 10 records, including five number ones. Brown played many racially segregated dances in the southern states, where she toured extensively and was immensely popular. Brown claimed that a writer had once summed up her popularity by saying, "In the South Ruth Brown is better known than Coca Cola."
Her first pop hit came with "Lucky Lips", a song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and recorded in 1957. The single reached number 6 on the R&B chart and number 25 on the US pop chart. The 1958 follow-up was "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'", written by Bobby Darin and Mann Curtis. It reached number 7 on the R&B chart and number 24 on the pop chart.
She had further hits with "I Don't Know" in 1959 and "Don't Deceive Me" in 1960, which were more successful on the R&B chart than on the pop chart.
During the 1960s, Brown faded from public view to become a housewife and mother. She returned to music in 1975 at the urging of Redd Foxx, followed by a series of comedic acting jobs. These included roles in the sitcom Hello, Larry, the John Waters film Hairspray, and the Broadway productions of Amen Corner and Black and Blue. The latter earned her a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Musical. She also won a Grammy award as Best Female Jazz Artist for her album Blues on Broadway, which featured hits from the show.
Brown's fight for musicians' rights and royalties in 1987 led to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. She was inducted as a recipient of the Pioneer Award in its first year, 1989. She was also inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Brown recorded and sang with the rhythm-and-blues singer Charles Brown. She also toured with Bonnie Raitt in the late 1990s. Her 1995 autobiography, Miss Rhythm, won the Gleason Award for music journalism. She also appeared on Bonnie Raitt's 1995 live DVD Road Tested singing the song "Never Make Your Move Too Soon." She was nominated for another Grammy in the Traditional Blues category for her 1997 album, R + B = Ruth Brown.
Brown was still touring at the age of 78. She had completed pre-production work on the Danny Glover film, Honeydripper, which she did not live to finish, but her recording of "Things About Comin' My Way" was released posthumously on the soundtrack CD. Her last interview was in August 2006.
Brown died in a Las Vegas–area hospital on November 17, 2006, from complications following a heart attack and stroke she suffered after surgery in the previous month. She was 78 years old. A memorial concert for her was held on January 22, 2007, at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York.
- 1957: Ruth Brown (Atlantic)
- 1959: Miss Rhythm (Atlantic)
- 1959: Late Date with Ruth Brown (Atlantic)
- 1962: Along Comes Ruth (Phillips)
- 1962: Gospel Time (Philips)
- 1964: Ruth Brown '65 (Mainstream), re-released as Softly
- 1968: The Big Band Sound of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Featuring Miss Ruth Brown (Solid State)
- 1969: Black Is Brown and Brown Is Beautiful (Skye)
- 1972: The Real Ruth Brown (Cobblestone)
- 1978: You Don't Know Me (Dobre)
- 1989: Blues on Broadway (Fantasy)
- 1991: Fine and Mellow (Fantasy)
- 1993: The Songs of My Life (Fantasy)
- 1997: R + B = Ruth Brown (Bullseye Blues)
- 1999: A Good Day for the Blues (Bullseye Blues)
- 2006: Rockin' in Rhythm: The Best of Ruth Brown (Atlantic/Rhino)
- 2006: Jukebox Hits (Acrobat)
- 2007: The Definitive Soul Collection (2 CDs, Atlantic/Rhino)
- 2015: The Very Best of Ruth Brown (2 CDs, One Day Music)
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Album|
|US R&B||US Pop|
|1950||"Teardrops from My Eyes"||1||—||Rockin' with Ruth|
|1951||"I'll Wait for You"||3||—|
|"Daddy Daddy"||3||—||Ruth Brown|
|1953||"(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean"||1||23|
|"Wild, Wild Young Men"||3||—|
|"Mend Your Ways"||7||—||Ruth Brown & Her Rhythmakers: Sweet Baby of Mine|
|1954||"Oh What a Dream" (with the Drifters)||1||—||Ruth Brown|
|1955||"As Long As I'm Moving"||4||—||Rockin' with Ruth|
|"Bye Bye Young Men"||13||—|
|"I Can See Everybody's Baby"||7||—|
|"It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)"||4||—||The Best of Ruth Brown|
|"Love Has Joined Us Together"||8||—|
|1956||"I Want to Do More"||3||—||Sweet Baby of Mine|
|"Sweet Baby of Mine"||10||—|
|1957||"Lucky Lips"||6||25||The Best of Ruth Brown|
|1958||"This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'"||7||24||Rockin' with Ruth|
|"Why Me"||17||—||Miss Rhythm|
|1959||"I Don't Know"||5||64|
|1960||"Don't Deceive Me"||10||62||Rockin' with Ruth|
|"Taking Care of Business/Honey Boy"||—||—|
|1962||"Shake a Hand"||—||97|
|"Mama (He Treats Your Daughter Mean)"||—||99|
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