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The Fabulous Miss D! - The Keynote, Decca and Mercury Singles (1943-1953)

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Album Review

A four-CD box set containing 107 tracks, The Fabulous Miss D! The Keynote, Decca and Mercury Singles 1943-1953 traces the first decade of Dinah Washington's recording career on 78s and 45s with a song on either side, starting with her stint with Lionel Hampton and continuing through the early years of her solo career. The album title implies an equivalence among the three labels for which Washington recorded in this period, but that is just a way of assuring the potential customer that those early Hampton sides — the Keynote singles "Evil Gal Blues"/"Homeward Bound" and "Salty Papa Blues"/"I Know How to Do It" featuring a Hampton sextet, and Hampton's Decca single "Blow Top Blues" — are included. In fact, most of this material comes from Mercury, and that means her string of solo R&B hits starting with 1948's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and running through 1953's double-sided "TV Is the Thing (This Year)"/"Fat Daddy," with the chart toppers "Am I Asking Too Much" and "Baby Get Lost" in between, along with all the B-sides (some of which also charted) and plenty of non-chart items, all in chronological order. That sequencing allows an appreciation of Washington's development from the bluesy jazz and big-band efforts of the early recordings through jump blues to a mixture of ‘50s R&B and lush pop efforts. It's clear that Mercury hoped to cross Washington over to the pop charts, and every now and then, strings and a hearty backup chorus signal an attempt to push her toward the sound of Patti Page. But only "I Wanna Be Loved" made an impression on the pop chart in this period, and the poppier efforts tended to miss the R&B charts, where Washington otherwise scored consistently in the Top Ten. Sometimes, she did so by going gutbucket and gritty, such as on "Long John Blues," perhaps the most salacious song ever written about dentistry ("You thrill me when you drill me") and a number three hit in 1949. But Washington got to the same chart peak with her version of Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart," which suggests both her versatility and the range of Mercury's demands on her. Indeed, she was frequently called upon to cover pop hits for the R&B market during this period, and succeeded with such reverse crossover hits as "Harbor Lights," "My Heart Cries for You," "Wheel of Fortune," and "Tell Me Why," which, just earlier, had been pop chart entries for Sammy Kaye, Guy Mitchell, Kay Starr, and the Four Aces, respectively. And she occasionally undertook pop standards, such as "Embraceable You" and "How Deep Is the Ocean," or dipped into the Bing Crosby ("Just One More Chance") or Frank Sinatra ("I'm a Fool to Want You") catalogs, always with satisfying results.


Born: August 29, 1924 in Tuscaloosa, AL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

Dinah Washington was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century -- beloved to her fans, devotees, and fellow singers; controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop -- and she probably would have made a fine gospel or country singer had she the time. Hers...
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