A Tremendous Voice, Silenced Too Soon: Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Barry Manilow’s “2:00 AM Paradise Cafe” album and my consequent introduction to jazz musicians such as Sarah Vaughan and Gerry Mulligan.  As so often happens, those discoveries led me to other musicians, and also led me to start exploring the jazz section in music stores.

Not long after I bought my first CD player (can it really be over a quarter century ago?), I was skimming through the jazz bin at a CD store and stumbled across a Dinah Washington compilation on sale.  Intrigued, I purchased it and took it home – and I think that CD stayed in my player for several solid days.  That gorgeous, bluesy voice was so compelling, and songs such as “I Wanna Be Loved” and “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” – in particular, Dinah’s passionate, from-the-depths-of-her-soul delivery – absolutely entranced me.

So, when I found her “This Is My Story Vol. 1” album in a bargain bin recently, it was definitely coming home with me.  Released in 1963, the record includes not only the favorites mentioned above, but also “September in the Rain” and “Bitter Earth,” among other superb songs.  Sadly, this release would have been one of her last, as she died in December 1963 at the age of 39 (found by her seventh husband – another unfortunate statistic).

Music history is littered with talents who have left us much too soon – from Mozart, to Dinah, to Amy Winehouse.  Simple illness takes some, but it seems that talent and success are burdens that some find difficult to carry easily.  Now that I’m several years past 39, the loss at such an early age seems even more tragic – all that potential, all that music lost.  Have I made the most of my time?  I’ve had no reason to live like Dinah Washington, a spark that burned out too quickly, but it makes one think nevertheless.

If you’ve never heard Dinah Washington before, I strongly encourage you to seek her recordings out – she was a singular talent, and her music was (and is) exceptional.

Read about “This Is My Story Vol. 1” on Discogs.

Listen to a Dinah Washington compilation on Spotify.