Ruth Brown Biography
Ruth Brown was an American singer-songwriter and actress who ruled the rhythm-and-blues charts throughout the majority of the 1950s. She was also known as the “Queen of R&B” and “Miss Rhythm,” and her success helped establish Atlantic Records as a key player in the record business.
Ruth Brown was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1928 as Ruth Alson Weston. She grew up in Virginia and Macon, North Carolina, where she helped her grandmother sharecrop during the summers. Brown became interested in music when she was very young, sneaking out to hear shows and eventually singing out herself. “I dearly wanted to discuss my developing interest in singing for a living,” she writes in her autobiography, “but I knew Dad would hit the roof if I did.”
Following World War II, Brown ran away from home and became half of the short-lived husband-and-wife performance combo “Brown and Brown” with trumpeter Jimmy Earle Brown, gaining both the surname “Brown” and some more performing experience. She then toured briefly with Lucky Millinder and his band, but Millinder was dissatisfied with her performance and fired her, leaving her to fend for herself in Washington, DC.
Blanche Calloway offered her a job singing for tips in her club, Crystal Caverns, as a favour in order to raise the finances she needed to return home to Portsmouth. Duke Ellington, Sonny Til of the Baltimore Orioles, and Willis Conover of Voice of America were in town one evening and heard her.
Willis called Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson, thrilled about the new talent they had uncovered. After sending a representative to see Brown, Atlantic gave her a contract, and Blanche Calloway became her manager. Brown got in a car accident that shattered her legs on her way to New York to sign the contract and perform at the Apollo. In 1949, she signed a contract with Atlantic from her hospital bed. She had to wear leg braces for several months while healing. Atlantic Records contributed to the medical expenses.
Brown’s accomplishment at Atlantic was so significant that the label was dubbed “the House that Ruth Built.” She’d eventually cut almost a hundred sides for the label. Brown began by mostly recording ballads and jazz tunes. “Teardrops from My Eyes,” her first #1 R&B song, signalled a decisive shift in her sound toward the “hot” rhythmic style for which she became recognised. Hits such as “5-10-15 Hours” (1952) and “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1953) are often regarded as among the first of the rock and roll period. Her first major crossover hit was “Lucky Lips” (1957), which reached the Billboard Top 100. She notes in her autobiography that the success of that song, along with her participation in rock and roll “supershows” like Alan Freed’s, meant that “I sang ‘Lucky Lips’ seven times in one day.” And nothing else! It was a fiasco, a rock ’n’ roll circus, but it was a huge business.”
Brown also travelled extensively in the 1950s and early 1960s, which she later attributed to her success. “One of the reasons I was what we called popular, hot,’red hot,'” she explained in an interview for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “was the fact that I was really involved—I was visible.” I was one of the few female artists that performed in the deep South. I was always present wherever there was a stage, regardless of the economic position, even during the harshest period of segregation. I made public appearances.” She frequently slept at private residences and recalls changing her clothes in the car when she was denied dressing rooms.
In the late 1960s into the 1970s, Brown’s musical career faltered somewhat, and she was also not receiving royalties from her early records.
Her musical career, on the other hand, took off again in the latter half of the 1970s. In 1975, she launched a different kind of theatre career as Mahalia Jackson in the musical Selma. She made her Broadway debut in Allen Toussaint’s R&B musical Staggerlee in 1987. Her next role was in Black & Blue at the Théâtre Musical de Paris, and she was cast in the show’s Broadway version in 1989. The show had 829 performances, according to Playbill. She also starred as Motormouth Maybelle in John Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray.
Brown was a passionate campaigner for the rights of artists. Her own struggles to receive fair compensation for her early records inspired the formation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing financial and medical assistance to musicians, as well as educational outreach and other efforts to preserve rhythm and blues’ cultural legacy.
Brown died in 2006, but not before receiving major honours for her work: she won a Tony Award for her performance in Black & Blue in 1989, the same year she got one of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s inaugural Pioneer Awards, and she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What Was Ruth Brown’S Biggest Hit?
Ruth Brown’s bigges hit was “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” The song was released in 1953 and peaked at number one on the R&B charts.
Ruth Brown First Song?
In her first audition, in 1949, she sang “So Long,” which became a hit.
Where Did Ruth Brown Start Her Singing Career?
Ruth Brown started her singing career in the early 1940s. She was discovered by bandleader and talent scout Johnny Otis, who helped her get started in the music business. Brown went on to become one of the most successful and popular R&B singers of the 1950s, with hits like “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Don’t Deceive Me.” She was also an active civil rights campaigner, using her platform to speak out against segregation and racism. Brown passed away in 2006.