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R&B icon, Portsmouth native Ruth Brown dies at 78

on November 18, 2006 No comments
By Reuters Staff

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Pioneering rhythm and blues singer Ruth Brown, known as “the girl with a tear in her voice” for emotion-laden singing, died on Friday at age 78 after a stroke and heart attack in Las Vegas, friends said.

Ruth Brown – 1998 © Fred Prouser /Reuters

Brown was the best selling black female artist of the early 1950s with songs including “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” “So Long,” “Teardrops From My Eyes,” “Oh, What a Dream,” and “Mambo Lips.”

Her hits for Atlantic Records were so huge that record company became known as “The House that Ruth Built.”

But her work with Atlantic Records ended in 1961 as her gutsy, belting style fell out of favor.

Her career faded in the 1960s and she was reduced to taking menial jobs, including that of a maid, until a revival of her work in 1970s. In later years she hosted her own National Public Radio show, “The Harlem Hit Parade,” on the great black blues and R&B singers of the 1940s, 50s and 60s and won a Tony award for her work in the musical revue “Black and Blue.”

When she left Atlantic, the company said she owed them $30,000. When her career revived, she led a battle for artists to receive royalties from record companies.

Besides being known as “The Girl with a Tear in her Voice,” she was also called “The Original Queen of Rhythm & Blues,” “Miss Rhythm & Blues,” and “Miss Rhythm,” a nickname given to her by Frankie Lane,

When she revived her career, she starred in Allen Toussaint’s off-Broadway musical “Staggerlee” and appeared in John Waters’ film “Hairspray” as Motormouth Maybelle.

She was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Singer Bonnie Raitt said, “Ruth was one of the most important and beloved figures in modern music. You can hear her influence in everyone from Little Richard to Etta (James), Aretha (Franklin), Janis (Joplin) and divas like Christina Aguilera today.

“She set the standard for sass, heartache and resilience in her life as well as her music, and fought tirelessly for royalty reform and recognition for the R&B pioneers who never got their due. She taught me more than anyone about survival, heart and class. She was my dear friend and I will miss her terribly.”


Source: © Copyright Reuters

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