Years ago, I had a recording by Dinah Washington. She had a fantastic voice. What can you tell me about her?
—Vicki S., Nebraska
You are in luck if you want to hear her again, because virtually all of Dinah Washington’s recordings are currently available on CD. The versatile vocalist, born Ruth Jones in Tuscaloosa, Ala., recorded jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, and light pop. Her 1959 recording of What a Diff’rence a Day Makes was a big pop hit, as was Baby, You Got What It Takes, a duet with Brook Benton. She moved from Alabama to Chicago’s South Side as a child, where she played piano and directed her church choir. There’s some dispute about where she got the stage name Dinah Washington—from bandleader Lionel Hampton, booking agent Joe Glaser or Garrick Stage Bar boss Joe Sherman. But there’s no dispute that the same work that shot her to stardom also has been a big influence on most black female singers who have followed her. Sadly, Washington was only 39 when she died from an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol in 1963.