Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington

Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington

by Nadine Cohodas

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Queen is the landmark biography of the brief, intensely lived life and soulful music of the great Dinah Washington.

A gospel star at fifteen, she was discovered by jazz great Lionel Hampton at eighteen, and for the rest of her life was on the road, playing clubs, or singing in the studio--making music one way or another.

Dinah's tart and heartfelt voice quickly became her trademark; she was a distinctive stylist, crossing over from the "race" music category to the pop and jazz charts. Known in her day as Queen of the Blues and Queen of the Juke Boxes, Dinah was regarded as that rare "first take" artist, her studio recordings reflecting the same passionate energy she brought to the stage. As Nadine Cohodas shows us, Dinah suffered her share of heartbreak in her personal life, but she thrived on the growing audience response that greeted her signature tunes: "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes," "Evil Gal Blues," and "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)," with Brook Benton. She made every song she sang her own.

Dinah lives large in these pages, with her seven marriages; her penchant for clothes, cars, furs, and diets; and her famously feisty personality--testy one moment and generous the next. This biography, meticulously researched and gracefully written, is the first to draw on extensive interviews with family members and newly discovered documents. It is a revelation of Dinah's work and her life. Cohodas captures the Queen in all her contradictions, and we hear in this book the voice of a natural star, born to entertain and to be loved.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307427380
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/18/2007
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 670,848
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Nadine Cohodas is the author of Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change, The Band Played Dixie: Race and the Liberal Conscience at Ole Miss, and Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records, which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2000 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2002 as a classic of blues literature. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt


"George Gershwin wouldn’t know his own song when I’m through with it. I can’t stay hidebound to any melody."

It was a Saturday night in February 1961 on Chicago’s South Side. The patrons at Roberts Show Lounge were in a festive mood—the men in sharp business suits, the women dressed somewhere between Sunday church and New Year’s Eve. A few whites were scattered among the tables; the rest were black Chicagoans waiting expectantly for the show to begin even though most of them had seen the star attraction many times.

That didn’t matter. When Dinah Washington was in town, the music was always good and always different. No one knew when something unusual might happen. What would she sing? What would she wear? What was new in the offstage life that raised eyebrows and made headlines?

Dinah had just married her sixth husband, a slight, handsome actor twelve years her junior. But it was a good bet she’d have a story about the good-looking man who’d caught her eye the other day. She might tell a few jokes, too. And if the patrons were noisy when she sang, Dinah’s sharp tongue would silence them. It was grand to watch as a spectator, though less inviting to be on the other end of her momentary annoyance.

Shortly after ten the announcer came over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, Miss D—Dinah Washington.”

She walked to the microphone with a slow, confident gait, sizing up this night’s audience as they took her in from their seats. She was just over five feet but seemed much taller. It wasn’t the high-heeled dress shoes but her command of the space and the moment. She turned to the band and signaled the key. The piano player hit the opening notes. The bass and drums came in a split second later, and Dinah was off. She opened upbeat, then sang some ballads, finally some blues, first the bawdy tunes and then the ones that made her cry with those lines about love gone sour and life all alone.

At the end the audience, on their feet, cheered for more.

Dinah treasured those moments, hard earned and savored in the early morning hours when the applause had faded. They were the culmination of the silent, even furtive dreams of the young girl born Ruth Jones far away from the glory of center stage and the fans who would one day call her Queen.

Table of Contents

Prologue 3
1 . Tuscaloosa, 1900–1928, pg. 5
2 . Lift Every Voice, 1929–July 1942, pg. 10
3 . Is There Anyone Finer?, August–December 1942, pg. 24
4 . The “Find” of the Year, January–July 1943, pg. 32
5 . I Know How to Do It, August 1943–November 1945, pg. 40
6 . Stairway to a Star, December 1945–December 1947, pg. 55
7 . Queen of the Juke Boxes, 1948–1949, pg. 73
8 . No Time for Tears, 1950–1951, pg. 96
9 . Keter, Wynton, and Jimmy, 1952, pg. 126
10 . Love for Sale, 1953, pg. 143
11 . Dinah Jams, 1954, pg. 160
12 . Much More Than a Blues Singer, 1955, pg. 192
13 . “Hot, Fresh and Invigorating,” 1956, pg. 222
14 . “You’ve Got to Lay It on Charisma,” 1957, pg. 248
15 . “Ah, I Got You,” 1958, pg. 278
16 . What a Diff’rence a Day Makes, 1959, pg. 304
17 . Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes, 1960, pg. 331
18 . September in the Rain, 1961, pg. 358
19 . Roulette Wheel, 1962, pg. 388
20 . For All We Know, January–November 1963, pg. 409
21 . “Move Me a Little Higher,” December 1963, pg. 434
22 . Long Live the Queen, pg. 443 
Discography, pg. 455
Notes, pg. 461
Bibliography, pg. 525
Acknowledgments, pg. 531
Index, pg. 535

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Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
housecat66 More than 1 year ago
This book was as dry and boring as a work of ancient history. 7 (maybe 8) husbands and a legand in her field, you would think this book would have some life to it. The writing is as dead as the Queen herself. It is a shame this is the only biography available. Borrow...DO NOT BUY!!
Sweetie09 More than 1 year ago
This author has NO IDEA who Dinah Washington was. She needs to do a little more RESEARCH into this woman's life. The book was uninformative, dry, boring, and made no sense. She was more than someone that was married to an NFL player, mother, gospel singer, and GREAT Blues, and Jazz singer. My suggestion to this author is the next time you decide to write a book on a person, please do more RESEARCH. This sounds like something you would put on the back of an album cover and even then it doesn't tell who she was or what she was about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago