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November 20, 2006

Soul Sister Ruth Brown Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

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blues final notes…
Ruth Brown
1928 – 2006

Rhythm & Blues Loses the Great Ruth Brown

Singer Ruth Brown, who’s recordings of “Teardrops in my Eyes,” and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” took her to the top of the rhythm & blues charts in the ’50s, has died at the age of 78. Brown succumbed to complications from a heart attack and stroke suffered last Friday at a Las Vegas-area hospital.

The Grammy and Tony award-winning singer’s soulful voice covered a range of jazz, gospel, and blues, producing dozens of hits for Atlantic Records.

Over the last two decades Brown became a driving force in the efforts to see unpaid royalties and musical credits given to R&B and blues musicians, many of whom failed to be compensated for their earlier works.

One of the founders of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, formed in 1988 in Philadelphia and financed through a settlement with Atlantic Records, Brown received not only her own back royalties but was successful in seeing over three dozen other R&B performers compensated as well.

Brown was born in Portsmouth, Va., where she spent her youth singing in a church choir. She later crossed over into rock ‘n’ roll with some success with “Lucky Lips” and “This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’,” a song she co-wrote with Bobby Darin.

During the ’60s Brown and her contemporaries were forced into retirement when R&B and rock and roll fell out of favour with audiences. Known for her resilient and feisty nature, she spent those years raising her two sons on her own and earning a living as a maid, school bus driver, and teacher.

In the mid-70s Brown came out of retirement to a renewed career, recording blues and jazz tunes for a variety of labels and enjoying success in theatre and film. Her role in the R&B musical “Staggerlee” was critically acclaimed, and she won a Tony Award for best actress in the Broadway revue “Black and Blue.” She also played a feisty deejay in the 1988 cult movie “Hairspray.”

Best known as a voice that took black pop music into the era of rhythm & blues, In 1997 Ruth Brown won a Grammy for best jazz vocal performance, and in 2006 was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The famed singer continued to perform and record through her later years, becoming a popular host of National Public Radio’s “Harlem Hit Parade.”

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