Ruth Brown, Miss Rockin' Rhythm

Ruth Brown, R&B Singer and Actress, Dies at 78
Ruth Brown, the gutsy rhythm-and-blues singer whose career extended to acting and crusading for musicians’ rights, died on Friday November 17, 2006 in Las Vegas. She was 78. The cause was complications following a heart attack and stroke she suffered after surgery, and Ms. Brown had been on life support since Oct. 29, said her friend, Howell Begle.

Born Ruth Weston on January 30, 1928, in Portsmouth - Virginia, she was the most prolific black female R&B vocalist of the '50s, rivaling Dinah Washington for a time, Ruth Brown helped establish Atlantic Records as a major purveyor of R&B music. Atlantic's top-selling artist of the 50s, surpassing even Ray Charles, Ruth Brown helped form the link between R&B and rock 'n' roll through her appearances on Alan Freed's pioneering shows.

Ruth Weston was brought up to sing spirituals in her father's church choir. As she grew up she began to admire Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. During World War II, as a teenager, Ruth sang at various soldiers' clubs in Virginia. Ruth began her professional singing career in 1946, adopting the name Ruth Brown. She sang briefly with the Lucky Millinder Band and moved to Washington, D.C., where she performed at Cab's sister Blanche Calloway's Crystal Cavern nightclub. Blanche was so impressed with her that she asked to be her manager. Brought to the attention of Herb Abramson of the newly formed Atlantic Records label by Calloway, Brown signed with the label in 1948 and got a bedut engagement at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

On her way to New York, Ruth was involved in an auto accident and was hospitalized in Chester, Pennsylvania, for nine moths with srious internal injuries and two broken legs. When she finally left the hospital, she wore leg braces and had five thousand dollars in medical bills. Her eventual debut release, "So Long," became a smash R&B hit and the first of a series of hits that lasted through 1960. Between 1950 and 1954 she scored five top R&B hit with "Teardrops from My Eyes," "5-10-15 Hours," "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean," "Oh What a Dream," and "Mambo Baby." Other R&B hits through 1956 included "Daddy Daddy," "Wild Wild Young Men," and "As Long as I'm Moving."

One of the reasons for her success was her association with songwriter Rudy Toombs, composer of Teardrops: "A man who was full of life, effervescent and happy", Ruth told Arnold Shaw, "He showed that in his songs - all bouncy and jolly. The things he was doing were different rhythmically from what I was into. I was more of a pop torch singer. I preferred the ballads. But since Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramsons seemed a step ahead of what was going to be the accepted sound, I went along with them and picked up on the tunes that Rudy wrote for me."

In 1956 Ruth Brown began performing on Alan Freed's rock 'n' roll shows. Later R&B hits such as 1957's "Lucky Lips" (written by Leiber and Stoller) and 1958's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'"(written by Bobby Darin) became major hits, establishing her as a rock 'n' roll artist. Subsequent successes in both pop and R&B fields included "I Don't Know" and "Don't Deceive Me," but by 1962 she had left Atlantic for Phillips, only to soon retire. She eventually reemerged in the '70s with new recordings and appeared in several television situation comedies, including "Hello Larry" from 1979 to 1981. Brown also fought to recover royalties from her early Atlantic recordings and was eventually awarded $2.000.000, which allowed her to establish the nonprofit Rhythm and Blues Foundation. In the '80s she appeared in a number of Off-Broadway musicals, including "Staggerlee." She also appeared in the 1988 film "Hairspray," won a Tony award for her performance in the Broadway musical "Black and Blue" and began recording jazz-style albums for the Fantasy label. Ruth Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

European readers might remember one of the first Rockhouse releases in 1977 by Little Tina & The Flight 56 - "This little girl is gonna rock it!" - which includes a superb cover of Ruth's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'", one of her very best rockin' songs and, strangly enough, not covered very often.

Sequel RSDCD 816 Sequel RSACD 864

Recommended listening:
Miss Rhythm: Greatest Hits And More (Sequel RSDCD 816, 2CD)
Miss Rhythm: The Rest & More Of The Best (Sequel RSACD 864)

"Rock On" by Norm N. Nite
"The Rockin' Fifties" by Brock Helander
Various album covers from my collection

Official Ruth Brown Website:

Compiled by The BlackCat, 1999/2006