So successful was Ruth Brown in the 1950s that her label, Atlantic Records, which started in 1947, was nicknamed The House the Ruth Built.
Her first single for the label, “So Long,” reached #4 on the Rhythm & Blues chart in 1949. Her next hit, “Teardrops from My Eyes,” spent 11 weeks at #1 on that chart. She earned the nickname the Queen of R&B, and over the next ten years scored an additional nineteen r&b top ten singles, including four more number ones. In total she spent thirty-two weeks at #1 on the r&b singles chart. In 1953, Brown crossed over to the pop top 40 with “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”
In the 1960s Brown focused on her family life. She returned to music the following decade, and added acting gigs to her resume. In 1979 she was a regular character on the sitcom Hello, Larry, and she famously portrayed Motormouth Maybelle in the original 1988 movie version of Hairspray, a role which had echoes of her life performing at segregated dances in the sixties. She won the 1989 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance in the Broadway show Black and Blue. Her companion album, Blues on Broadway, won Brown the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance, Female.
Brown was also influential in the creation of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, founded in 1988. Per the nonprofit’s mission statement, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation is “dedicated to the historical and cultural preservation of Rhythm & Blues music and recognition of participants in its community by providing services and programs to Rhythm & Blues artists and their fans.”
In 1993, Ruth Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
She died in 2006 from complications resulting from a heart attack and stroke.
Inspired by Ruth Brown, who was born on January 12*, 1928, today’s playlist presents twenty of the best rhythm and blues recordings from the 1950s.
(*I initially prepared this entry to be posted on January 12. However, once I was about to post it, I read in a few places that the information I had was incorrect, and that Brown’s birth date was January 30, so I saved it for today. Just after I finished re-editing it this afternoon, I looked on Wikipedia and see they (now) list her birthday as January 12, which some other sites confirmed.)
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