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Features, National Obituary Review

Dead Person Of The Day November 17 – Ruth Brown

No Comments 17 November 2011

Wow, what a lady! What a story! What a set of pipes! I gotta calm down! Ms. Brown became Atlantic Record’s first big selling artist in the 1950s. Yes, the same Atlantic that eventually signed Led Zeppelin, Ray Charles, Oedipus and the Momma’s Boys and The Rolling Stones! Before Plante and Jagger were melting hearts with lips and leather pants Atlantic Records was known as the house that Ruth built. FACT!

And what a comeback story. Because white schlubs were singing black people’s songs by the mid 1960s Ruth eventually stopped performing altogether. She drove a school bus, she washed dishes, she worked as a domestic, a cleaner, a cook and a teacher’s assistant before a resurgence in the mid 80’s in John Water’s Hairspray. I’ll let the obit tell the rest because The Independent, per usual, did a stellar job. They really hit on the 3 R’s in this one.

Ruth Brown (January 30, 1928 – November 17, 2006)

The highs and lows of the American singer Ruth Brown’s life merit a biopic. Dubbed the “original queen of rhythm’n’blues”, she recorded hit songs like “Teardrops from My Eyes”, “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean”, “Lucky Lips” and “This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’ “, and became the first big-selling artist on Atlantic Records in the 1950s.

Indeed, for a while, such was her success in the rhythm’n’blues charts that the label, which had been founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson and would eventually sign Ray Charles, the Drifters, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, became known as “the house that Ruth built”.

When white rock’n’rollers began eclipsing black rhythm’n’blues performers and took a watered-down version of their gutsy, gritty blend of gospel, jazz and blues into the mainstream, Brown disappeared from view; throughout the Sixties and early Seventies, she did odd jobs to make ends meet and raised two sons on her own. She came back in the mid-Seventies, appearing on television and on Broadway, memorably portraying Motormouth Mabel in Hairspray, the John Waters teen-movie satire and won a Tony for her appearances in the musical Black and Blue and a Grammy for the album Blues on Broadway. Continue 


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