Long Before Mary J. Blige, Ruth Brown was the “Queen of R&B”

2 Posted by - October 17, 2022 - BLACK WOMEN, MUSIC

In the 1950s, Ruth Brown was known for bringing a bit of pop influence to R&B in a variety of songs for Atlantic Records.

Brown, born Ruth Alston Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia, was the oldest of seven siblings. As a young girl, she attended I.C Norcom High School, which was legally segregated during that time. Although Brown grew up in a Christian home, since her father was the director of the choir at a local church, she showed more interest in singing at nightclubs. Her inspiration came from listening to singers such as Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

Blanche Calloway, who was also a bandleader, arranged a gig for Brown at a Washington, D.C. nightclub called Crystal Caverns and soon became her manager. Willis Conover, a DJ for Voice of America, happened to watch a performance of Brown singing with Duke Ellington and recommended her to Atlantic Records. Unfortunately, Brown was unable to audition as planned because of a car accident that led to a 9-month hospital stay. Nevertheless, she was determined to pursue her musical career, and later signed on with Atlantic Records while still in the hospital.

Brown’s first pop hit was “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. During this time, Atlantic Records became known as “The house that Ruth built,” as her successful singles brought life into the struggling company. Other hits of her include “So Long.” “Teardrops from My Eyes” and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”

Eventually, Brown faded from the public eye to become a housewife and mother. Redd Foxx later urged her to return to music, and thus, Brown was still touring at 77 years old. However, due to complications from a heart attack and stroke she suffered after surgery, she died at the age of 78.




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