Ruth Jones was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and moved to Chicago as a child. Dinah became deeply involved in gospel and played piano for the choir in St. Luke's Baptist Church while she was still in elementary school. She sang gospel music in church and played piano, directing her church choir in her teens and being a member of the Sallie Martin Gospel Singers. She sang lead with the first female gospel singers formed by Ms Martin, who was co-founder of the Gospel Singers Convention. Jones' involvement with the gospel choir occurred after she won an amateur contest at Chicago's Regal Theater where she sang "I Can't Face the Music".
After winning a talent contest at the age of 15, she began performing in clubs. By 1941-42 she was performing in such Chicago clubs as Dave's Rhumboogie and the Downbeat Room of the Sherman Hotel (with Fats Waller).
She was playing at the Three Deuces, a jazz club, when a friend took her to hear Billie Holiday at the Garrick Stage Bar. Joe Sherman was so impressed with her singing of "I Understand", backed by The Cats & The Fiddle, who were appearing in the Garrick's upstairs room, that he immediately hired her. During her year at the Garrick - she sang upstairs while Holiday performed in the downstairs room - she acquired the name by which she became known. Joe Sherman is generally credited with suggesting the change from Ruth Jones, but both Joe Glaser, the booker-manager who brought Lionel Hampton to hear Dinah at the Garrick, and Hampton himself have occasionally been given the responsibility for the name change. Hampton's visit brought an offer, and Dinah went to work as his female vocalist in 1943 after she had sung with the band for its opening at the Chicago Regal Theatre. She sang with the Hampton band for two years.
She made her recording debut for the Keynote label that December with "Evil Gal Blues", written by Leonard Feather and backed by Hampton and musicians from his band, including Joe Morris (trumpet) and Milt Buckner (piano). Both that record and its follow-up, "Salty Papa Blues", made Billboard's "Harlem Hit Parade" in 1944.
She stayed with Hampton's band until 1946 and, after the Keynote label folded, signed for Mercury Records as a solo singer. Her first record for Mercury, a version of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'", was another hit, starting a long string of success. Between 1948 and 1955, she had 27 R&B top ten hits, making her one of the most popular and successful singers of the period. Both "Am I Asking Too Much" (1948) and "Baby Get Lost" (1949) reached # 1 on the R&B chart, and her version of "I Wanna Be Loved" (1950) crossed over to reach # 22 on the US pop chart. Her hit recordings included blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, and even a version of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" (R&B # 3, 1951). At the same time as her biggest popular success, she also recorded sessions with many leading jazz musicians, notably Clifford Brown on the 1954 live album Dinah Jams, and also recorded with Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, and Ben Webster.
In 1959, she had her first top ten pop hit, with a version of "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes", which made # 4 on the US pop chart. Her band at that time included arranger Belford Hendricks, with Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Zawinul (piano), and Panama Francis (drums). She followed it up with a version of Nat "King" Cole's "Unforgettable", and then two highly successful duets in 1960 with Brook Benton, "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" (# 5 pop, # 1 R&B) and "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love) (# 7 pop, # 1 R&B). Her last big hit was "September in the Rain" in 1961 (# 23 pop, 5 R&B).
Washington was well known for singing torch songs. In 1962, Dinah hired a male backing trio called the Allegros, consisting of Jimmy Thomas on drums, Earl Edwards on sax, and Jimmy Sigler on organ. Edwards was eventually replaced on sax by John Payne. A Variety writer praised their vocals as "effective choruses".
Dinah Washington's achievements included appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival (1955–59), the Randalls Island Jazz Festival in New York City (1959), and the International Jazz Festival in Washington D.C. (1962), frequent gigs at Birdland (1958, 1961–62), and performances in 1963 with Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Performing at the London Palladium, with Queen Elizabeth sitting in a box, Dinah told the audience: "There is but one Heaven, one Hell, one queen, and your Elizabeth is an imposter." Imperious was the word for Dinah.
Washington was married eight times and divorced seven times, while having several lovers, including, according to Patti Austin, Quincy Jones. She had two children. Her husbands were John Young (1942–43), George Jenkins (1949), Walter Buchanan (1950), saxophonist Eddie Chamblee (1957), Rafael Campos (1957), Horatio Maillard (1959–60), Jackie Hayes (1960), and Dick "Night Train" Lane (1963).
Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Washington's eighth husband Lane went to sleep with his wife, and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive.
Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital which contributed to her death at the age of 39. She is buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
Ruth Lee Jones (Tuscaloosa, 29-8-1924 - Detroit, 14-12-1963), Dinah Washington, cantante estadounidense de rhythm and blues, jazz, blues, y pop.
Ha influido en varias cantantes destacables de su generación, como Nancy Wilson, Esther Phillips y Diane Schuur.
Su voz es potente y estridente, con un tono algo metálico y con un insistente vibrato; de absoluta claridad en la dicción, su entonación es la propia de una cantante de blues. Fue la primera estilista que se incorporó al canto gospel (como vocalista y pianista con los Sallie Martin Singers), lo que le permitió permear toda su carrera con estas raíces musicales. Su constante fluctuar estilístico ha sido uno de los aspectos que más se le ha censurado, al reprochársele el despilfarro de su talento vocal en productos comerciales y de baja calidad que, no obstante, la proporcionaron un enorme éxito popular.
Dinah Washington expresó en sus letras y conciertos las aspiraciones y decepciones de la comunidad negra, siempre con un cierto humor sardónico.
El origen de su nombre es discutido; algunas fuentes indican que es obra del manager del Garrick Stage Bar, uno de los clubes donde empezó a cantar; otras dicen que fue Lionel Hampton quien lo eligió.
Nacida en una familia con ciertos intereses musicales, su madre tocaba el piano en la St. Luke’s Baptist Church, con tres o cuatro años se traslada a Chicago y, posteriormente, se forma en el ambiente musical del gospel, tocando el piano y dirigiendo el coro de la iglesia.
Con 15 años, gana un concurso aficionado en el Regal Theatre. Son los espirituales sus primeros intereses musicales, asociándose a un pionero del gospel como Sallie Martin en 1940 para acompañarle a lo largo de una gira. Después, empieza a actuar en nightclubs como pianista y cantante, comenzando en el Garrick Bar en 1942. Allí la escucha el manager de jóvenes talentos Joe Glaser y se la recomienda a Lionel Hampton, quien la invita a unirse a su banda. Estuvo en ella entre 1943 y 1946 e hizo su debut en disco para Keynote a finales de 1943 en una sesión de blues organizada por Leonard Feather. La grabación fue un éxito y, con el tiempo, abandonó a Hampton para interpretar en solitario. Antes de que terminase el año, grabó tres sesiones en Los Ángeles para el sello Apollo antes de firmar con Mercury, con la que grabaría su primera sesión en enero de 1946. Con esta compañía se convertiría en una de las estrellas del rhythm and blues entre 1948 y 1955. Cantó blues, estándares, pop, etc. Grabó también muchas sesiones de jazz con big bands y pequeños combos, siendo las más memorables con Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Wynton Kelly y Joe Zawinul.
En 1959, consiguió un gran éxito en el mercado pop con "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes". El resto de su carrera se concentró en las baladas, respaldadas por una juvenil orquestación y grabadas para Mercury y Roulette, al estilo de Ray Charles. Luchando con un problema de peso, Washington murió por una sobredosis accidental de píldoras de dieta mezcladas con alcohol a los 39 años. Dejaba a sus espaldas una conflictiva vida sentimental, con siete matrimonios por el medio.