Saturday, December 09, 2006

Farewell blues: Anita and Ruth

Just in case any of you are getting the idea that this is a heavy, political, site with no concern for matters cultural, artistic or musical...

Two bloody good singers died recently, and both deserve to be remembered: Ruth Brown (born January 12 1928; died November 17 2006) and Anita O'Day (born October 18 1919; died October 23 2006).

I will, shortly, be putting a 'UTube' clip of Anita singing "Sweet Georgia Brown" from the film Jazz On A Summer's Day, on this site (once the Priest has explained to me how you do it) and I may even tell you about her famous falling-out with Roy Eldridge.

But as for Ruth Brown: this wonderful R&B singer, who influenced Fats Domino and BB King, with the 'catch' in her voice, is now almost forgotten. She shouldn't be. She was a wonderful singer and a great woman. She played a leading role in the success of Atlantic records (known as "the house that Ruth built"), and wrote to the label's president, Ahmet Ertigun, demanding back royalties. He wrote back, replying that, on the contrary, she owed Atlantic $30,000 in unpaid studio costs, but enclosing a personal cheque for $1,000. Ruth cashed the cheque, but still called it "crumbs from the rich man's table".

After leaving Atlantic, she raised a family, divorced her bigamous first husband, left her abusive second husband and her unsatisfactory third, who opposed her singing career. She worked as a domestic cleaner and a school bus driver before returning to professional singing in 1975.

Many of her songs were, shall we say, full of innuendo. One of her best numbers was about an antique chair: "If I can't sell it, I'll keep on sittin' on it, but I ain't gonna give it away!"


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