Friday, November 17, 2006
Ruth Brown, the legendary R&B singer, is dead. Scratch that. She has died, but she is not dead. She succumbed to complications from a stroke and heart attack she suffered in Las Vegas, and we will never see the likes of her again.
Her magnificent voice was trained in a church choir in Portsmouth, VA, but she was equally comfortable with jazz, gospel, blues, and rock. She produced dozens of hits for Atlantic Records and turned it into a major record company, which repaid her by cheating her of her royalties.
She performed on stages around the world, made movies, and recorded hits in many genres for several different labels. She also became a tireless advocate for aging R&B musicians, and formed the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit dedicated to providing financial and medical assistance to those in need, as well as historical and cultural preservation of the musical genre.
I heard her in concert with Little Richard in September, and she still had the energy and voice of a much younger woman. An incredibly talented, vital and charming much younger woman. She was 78.
Ruth Brown was magical. She had the rare gift of making others happy, even those who didn't know her personally, but who suspended disbelief when she sang and saw the world as she did. As she wanted us to see it. She was hypnotic. She helped us to cross some kind of boundary and become her, almost. To hear her sing was to share her soul. That generosity was one of her greatest gifts.
She was a true lady in every sense of the word. She will be missed by so many.
I need to play some music now. And sing badly with Miss Ruth Brown.