November 20, 2006


Ruth Brown, 78; pivotal rhythm-and-blues singer symbolized perseverance (Ann Powers and Randy Lewis, November 18, 2006, LA Times)

Ruth Brown, the pioneering singer whose 1950s hits including "Teardrops From My Eyes" and "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" helped establish both the rhythm-and-blues form and Atlantic Records as the genre's preeminent label, died Friday in a Las Vegas area hospital from complications after a heart attack and stroke earlier in the week. She was 78. [...]

Despite being one of the top-selling R&B singers of the early 1950s, Brown had to support herself and her two children through a variety of menial jobs in the 1960s and '70s, after musical tastes changed and other artists took over the charts.

"She had a hard life," longtime Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler said Friday. "She had to drop out for a while and work as a maid. She'd be cleaning people's houses and then hear her records on the air."

Feisty, joyful and possessing the perfect balance of sugar and salt, Brown's voice took African American pop into the rhythmically expressive, emotionally direct rhythm-and-blues era.

Her nickname, in fact, was "Miss Rhythm," though she could turn a jazz phrase or give life to a Broadway song with as much grace as she showed shimmying through R&B hits such as "Lucky Lips" or her most famous song, "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean." Her trademark squeal in that No. 1 hit brought female sauciness to the fore in pop.

"Little Richard once told me he got his squeal from Ruth Brown," said Wexler, who produced dozens of her Atlantic recordings, mostly in conjunction with label founder Ahmet Ertegun.

Later, she came to symbolize other qualities, especially perseverance in the face of hardship.

"What always hit me about Ruth was her sass and the force of her spirit," singer Bonnie Raitt said Friday. "Even though she had a girlish quality, behind it there was no kidding around…. She would sell the song, and the force of her personality was so strong — flirtatiousness mixed with vulnerability mixed with 'Don't mess with me.' "

That she struggled while the Britney's of the world topped the charts is sufficient reason to hate pop music.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 20, 2006 12:02 AM
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