Ruth Brown died on November 17, 2006 at the age of 78, she was an American singer-songwriter and actress, sometimes known as the “Queen of R&B”.
Born Ruth Alston Weston January 12 or January 30, 1928 in Portsmouth, Virginia, she was the eldest of seven siblings.
She attended I. C. Norcom High School, which was then legally segregated.
Brown’s father was adockhand who directed the local church choir, but the young Ruth showed more interest in singing at USO shows andnightclubs. In her first audition, in 1949, she sang “So Long,” which ended up becoming 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 Brown became the acknowledged queen of R&B.
In all, between 1949 and 1955, she stayed on the R&B chart for a total 149 weeks, with sixteen Top 10 records including five number ones.
Brown played many dances that were deeply segregated in the Southern States, where she toured extensively and was immensely popular.
Brown herself claimed that a writer had once summed up her popularity by saying: “In the South Ruth Brown is better known than Coca Cola.”
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 Pioneer Award recipient in its first year, 1989, and inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1993, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During her childhood, Brown and her siblings spent their summers at their grandmother’s farm in North Carolina, where they worked all summer picking cotton in the fields. “That made me the strong woman I am,” she said.
Brown was a mischievous teenager, telling her parents she was going to choir practice but actually sneaking out to sing for soldiers at USO clubs.
It was through her clandestine singing career that she met and fell in love with a sailor and trumpeter named Jimmy Brown.
Knowing that her parents would disapprove of their relationship, not to mention her secret USO performances, Brown (just 17) and her new boyfriend ran away to Detroit, Michigan, in 1945 with hopes of making it together as performers.
They married shortly thereafter, but Brown would later discover that Jimmy was already married. Their marriage was legally void.
In 1989 she won a Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress for the musical Black and Blue, and in 1990 she won a Grammy Awardfor best jazz vocal by a female.
A champion of musicians’ rights, she spoke out against exploitative contracts, and in the 1980s she eventually received some back royalties from Atlantic.