Since today is Dinah Washington’s birthday, it’s only fitting to pay tribute to her. You can call Dinah’s voice & style incomparable, but in reality, she’s probably the only artist who could rival Billie Holiday. Billie had her marvelous style, and she could repeatedly just kill you with a song. Dinah could easily kill ya too, but she was a complicated soul. You got the sense that she was capable of doing it all.
There are 3 sides to Dinah’s music. The 1st is her as a Salty Blues singer. This stuff is all kinds of fun, and she is obviously wonderful on these divey, late night numbers. This style was prevalent during her early years, mostly released as 78rpm singles, which include a few fun double entendre tunes. But “The Queen” was capable of doing so much more. The second side of Dinah is her as a Jazz singer. This is best represented by her exceptional (and often rare) albums on the EmArcy label. Dinah used her voice like a Jazz instrument during this era, displaying remarkable range & challenging phrasing. This is her at her most artistic, displaying the depth of her vocal capabilities.
The third side of “The Queen” is Dinah Washington the Soul singer, represented well on this album 1961 “Unforgettable”. I don’t even know what to label this album, Jazz or Soul or Pop. It’s just really great music, which is all that matters. This side of Dinah shows her doing what she can do naturally, which is completely kill you with a song. It comes easy to her, just like Billie Holiday. This was the era of Soul music, and Sam Cooke came on the scene as someone who could also melt you with a song. And just like Cooke, Dinah is backed by an orchestra & studio choir here. Some view this as cheesy and don’t recognize this album as an all-time classic, but I disagree. The backing here is very classy & subtle, which allows Dinah’s voice to stand out as the star of the show. This is desert island romance music. Dinah delivers unique versions of many old standards here. She took a so-so song like “The Song Is Ended” and turned it into one of the most heart melting, stop in your tracks recordings of the era. And if you haven’t heard “This Bitter Earth”, you haven’t lived.
Dinah Washington- Unforgettable (Mercury Records, 1961) is available at Folk Arts for $6. I also have many of her other records, which are all well worth exploring.