Ruth Brown

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Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown 1996.jpg
Brown in 1996
Background information
Birth nameRuth Alston Weston
Born(1928-01-12)January 12, 1928 [1]
Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.
DiedNovember 17, 2006(2006-11-17) (aged 78)
Henderson, Nevada, U.S.
Genres R&B, soul, jazz, blues, doo-wop, gospel, funk
Occupation(s)Actress, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, piano, keyboards
Years active1949–2006
Labels Atlantic, Philips, Fantasy

Ruth Alston Brown (née Weston, January 12, 1928 [2] [3] [4] – 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". [5] For these contributions, Atlantic became known as "the house that Ruth built" [6] [7] (alluding to the popular nickname for the old Yankee Stadium). [8]

Honorific nicknames in popular music are terms used, most often in the media or by fans, to indicate the significance of an artist, and are often religious, familial, or royal and aristocratic titles, used metaphorically. Honorific nicknames were used in classical music in Europe as early as the early nineteenth century, with figures such as Mozart being called "The father of modern music" and Bach "The father of modern piano music". They were also particularly prominent in African-American culture in the post-Civil War era, perhaps as a means of conferring status that had been negated by slavery, and as a result entered early jazz and blues music, including figures such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional or "folk" music. Art music was historically disseminated through the performances of written music, although since the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local audiences.

Rhythm and blues, commonly abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African American communities in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat" was becoming more popular. In the commercial rhythm and blues music typical of the 1950s through the 1970s, the bands usually consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, one or more saxophones, and sometimes background vocalists. R&B lyrical themes often encapsulate the African-American experience of pain and the quest for freedom and joy, as well as triumphs and failures in terms of relationships, economics, and aspirations.


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; these efforts led to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. [9] Her performances in the Broadway musical Black and Blue earned Brown a Tony Award, and the original cast recording won a Grammy Award. In 2017, Brown was inducted into National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in Detroit, Michigan.

The Rhythm and Blues Foundation is an independent American nonprofit organization dedicated to the historical and cultural preservation of rhythm and blues music.

<i>Black and Blue</i> (musical) musical

Black and Blue is a musical revue celebrating the black culture of dance and music in Paris between World War I and World War II.

Tony Award awards for live Broadway theatre

The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in Midtown Manhattan. The awards are given for Broadway productions and performances, and an award is given for regional theatre. Several discretionary non-competitive awards are also given, including a Special Tony Award, the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre, and the Isabelle Stevenson Award. The awards are named after Antoinette "Tony" Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing. The trophy consists of a medallion, with a face portraying an adaptation of the comedy and tragedy masks, mounted on a black base with a pewter swivel.

Early life

Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, Brown was the eldest of seven siblings. [10] She attended I. C. Norcom High School, which was then legally segregated. Brown's father was a dockhand. He also directed the local church choir at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, but the young Ruth showed more interest in singing at USO shows and nightclubs, rebelling against her father. [11] She was inspired by Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Dinah Washington. [12]

Portsmouth, Virginia Independent city in Virginia, United States

Portsmouth is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 95,535. It is part of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.

I. C. Norcom High School

I. C. Norcom High School is a public high school in Portsmouth, Virginia. It is administered by Portsmouth City Public Schools. The school colors are maroon and grey, and the mascot is the Greyhounds. The school was named after Israel Charles Norcom, its first supervising principal.

Stevedore occupation of loading and unloading ships

A stevedore, longshoreman, docker or dockworker is a waterfront manual laborer who is involved in loading and unloading ships, trucks, trains or airplanes.

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. [5]

Trumpet musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family

A trumpet is a brass instrument commonly used in classical and jazz ensembles. The trumpet group contains the instruments with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpet-like instruments have historically been used as signaling devices in battle or hunting, with examples dating back to at least 1500 BC; they began to be used as musical instruments only in the late 14th or early 15th century. Trumpets are used in art music styles, for instance in orchestras, concert bands, and jazz ensembles, as well as in popular music. They are played by blowing air through nearly-closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound that starts a standing wave vibration in the air column inside the instrument. Since the late 15th century they have primarily been constructed of brass tubing, usually bent twice into a rounded rectangular shape.

James Earl Brown was an American trumpeter, saxophonist and singer. He was also credited or billed as Jimmy Earle, Jumpin' Jimmy Brown, and Rio Pardo.

Lucky Millinder American rhythm and blues and swing bandleader

Lucius Venable "Lucky" Millinder was an American rhythm-and-blues and swing bandleader. Although he could not read or write music, did not play an instrument and rarely sang, his showmanship and musical taste made his bands successful. His group was said to have been the greatest big band to play rhythm and blues, and gave work to a number of musicians who later became influential at the dawn of the rock and roll era. He was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1986.


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. [13]

Blanche Calloway American singer, bandleader and composer

Blanche Dorothea Jones Calloway was an American jazz singer, composer, and bandleader. She was the older sister of Cab Calloway and was a successful singer before her brother. With a music career that spanned over fifty years, Calloway was the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra and performed alongside musicians such as Cozy Cole, Chick Webb, and her brother. Her performing style was described as flamboyant and a major influence on her brother's performance style.

Cab Calloway American jazz singer and bandleader

Cabell "Cab" Calloway III was an American jazz singer, dancer, and bandleader. He was associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City, where he was a regular performer.

Bohemian Caverns American restaurant and jazz nightclub

The Bohemian Caverns, founded in 1926, was a restaurant and jazz nightclub located on the NE Corner of the intersection of 11th Street and U Street NW in Washington, D.C..

In 1948, Ertegün and Abramson drove from New York City to Washington, D.C., to hear Brown sing. Her repertoire was mostly popular ballads, but Ertegün convinced her to switch to rhythm and blues. [14]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

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. [15]

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), [14] "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; she would go on to score 21 Top 10 hits altogether, including five that landed at number one. Brown played many racially segregated dances in the southern states, where she toured extensively and was immensely popular. She claimed that a writer had once summed up her popularity by saying, "In the South Ruth Brown is better known than Coca-Cola."[ citation needed ]

Brown performed at the famed tenth Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles which was produced by Leon Hefflin, Sr. on June 20, 1954. She performed along with The Flairs, Count Basie and his Orchestra, Lamp Lighters, Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, Christine Kittrell, and Perez Prado and his Orchestra. [16]

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 U.S. pop chart. [17] 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. [18]

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.

Later life

During the 1960s, Brown faded from public view and lived as a housewife and mother. She returned to music in 1975 at the urging of the comedian 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.[ citation needed ]. She is also the aunt to legendary Hip-Hop MC Rakim.

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, [19] won the Gleason Award for music journalism. She also appeared on Bonnie Raitt's 1995 live DVD Road Tested, singing "Never Make Your Move Too Soon". [20] She was nominated for another Grammy in the Traditional Blues category for her 1997 album, R + B = Ruth Brown. In the 2000 television miniseries Little Richard , she was portrayed by singer Tressa Thomas.

She hosted the radio program Blues Stage, carried by more than 200 NPR affiliates, for six years, starting in 1989. [21]

Brown was still touring at the age of 78. [13] She had completed preproduction 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. [22]


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. [23] A memorial concert for her was held on January 22, 2007, at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. [ citation needed ]

Brown is buried at Roosevelt Memorial Park, Chesapeake City, Virginia. [24]



As guest


YearTitles (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Peak chart positionsAlbum
1949"So Long"
b/w "It's Raining" (non-album track)
4Rock & Roll
"I'll Get Along Somehow" (Part 1)
b/w Part 2
Non-album tracks
1950"Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe"
b/w "Love Me Baby"
b/w "(I'll Come Back) Someday"
"Sentimental Journey"
b/w "I Can Dream Can't I" (from Late Date with Ruth Brown)
Rock & Roll
The two preceding singles are with the Delta Rhythm Boys.
"Where Can I Go"
b/w "Dear Little Boy of Mine"
Non-album tracks
"Teardrops from My Eyes"
b/w "Am I Making the Same Mistake Again" (non-album track)
1Rock & Roll
1951"I'll Wait for You"
b/w "Standing on the Corner"
3Non-album tracks
"I Know"
b/w "Don't Want Nobody (If I Can't Have You)"
"Shine On (Big Bright Moon)"
b/w "Without My Love" (non-album track)
The Best of Ruth Brown
1952"5-10-15 Hours"
b/w "Be Anything (But Be Mine)" (non-album track)
1Rock & Roll
"Daddy Daddy"
b/w "Have a Good Time" (non-album track)
"Good for Nothing Joe"
b/w "Three Letters"
Non-album tracks
1953"(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean"
b/w "R.B. Blues" (non-album track)
123Rock & Roll
"Wild, Wild Young Men" /3
"Mend Your Ways"7Non-album tracks
"The Tears Keep Tumbling Down"
b/w "I Would If I Could"
1954"Love Contest"
b/w "If You Don't Want Me"
"Sentimental Journey"
b/w "It's All in Your Mind"
(both sides with the Delta Rhythm Boys)
"Hello Little Boy"
b/w "If I Had Any Sense"
"Oh What a Dream"
b/w "Please Don't Freeze" (from The Best of Ruth Brown)
1Rock & Roll
"Mambo Baby"
b/w "Somebody Touched Me" (from Miss Rhythm)
1955"As Long As I'm Moving" /4
"I Can See Everybody's Baby"7Miss Rhythm
"Bye Bye Young Men"
b/w "Ever Since My Baby's Been Gone" (non-album track)
13The Best of Ruth Brown
The preceding five singles are with the Rhythmakers (the Drifters).
"It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)"
b/w "What'd I Say" (non-album track)
4Rock & Roll
"Love Has Joined Us Together"
b/w "I Gotta Have You"
(both sides with Clyde McPhatter)
8Non-album tracks
1956"I Want to Do More"
b/w "Old Man River" (from Rock & Roll)
(both sides with the Rhythmakers [the Drifters])
"Sweet Baby of Mine"
b/w "I'm Getting Right"
"Mom Oh Mom"
b/w "I Want to Be Loved"
"I Still Love You"
b/w "Smooth Operator"
1957"Lucky Lips"
b/w "My Heart Is Breaking Over You" (non-album track)
625Rock & Roll
"One More Time"
b/w "When I Get You Baby"
Miss Rhythm
"Show Me"
b/w "I Hope We Meet"
"A New Love"
b/w "Look Me Up"
Non-album tracks
1958"Just Too Much
b/w "Book of Lies"
Miss Rhythm
"This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'" /724
"Why Me"17
"(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean"
b/w "I'll Step Aside" (non-album track)
Rock & Roll
"5-10-15 Hours"
b/w "Itty Bitty Girl" (non-album track)
1959"I Don't Know"
b/w "Papa Daddy" (non-album track)
564The Best of Ruth Brown
"Jack'O Diamonds"
b/w "I Can't Hear a Word You Say"
2396Miss Rhythm
"Don't Deceive Me"
b/w "I Burned Your Letter"
1062Non-album tracks
"What I Wouldn't Give"
b/w "The Door Is Still Open"
1960"Taking Care of Business"
b/w "Honey Boy" (non-album track)
The Best of Ruth Brown
"Sure 'Nuff"
b/w "Here He Comes"
Non-album tracks
1961"Anyone But You"
b/w "It Tears Me All to Pieces"
"Walkin' and Talkin'"
b/w "Hoopa-Loopa-Doopa"
(shown as by "Venus")
1962"Shake a Hand"
b/w "Say It Again" (non-album track)
97Along Comes Ruth
"Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"
b/w "Hold My Hand" (non-album track)
"He Tells Me with His Eyes"
b/w "If You Don't Tell Nobody"
Non-album tracks
1963"Secret Love"
b/w "Time After Time"
1964"What Happened to You"
b/w "Yes Sir That's My Baby"
"I Love Him and I Know It"
b/w "Come a Little Closer"
"Hurry On Down"
b/w "On the Good Ship Lollipop"
1968"You're a Stone Groovy Thing"
b/w "Someday (I Know, I Know)
Non-album tracks
b/w "Try Me and See"
Black Is Brown and Brown Is Beautiful
1989"If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sittin' on It"
b/w "Good Morning Heartache"
Blues on Broadway

As guest vocalist

With Benny Carter

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