Great Encounters #10: When Lionel Hampton Hired Dinah Washington

October 29th, 2004

Great Encounters

Book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons

 

 

When Lionel Hampton Hired Dinah Washington, 1942

_____

 

Excerpted from

Queen : The Life and Music of Dinah Washington

by

Nadine Cohodas

*

Listen to Dinah Washington sing The Man I Love, with Lionel Hampton’s orchestra

___________________

Editors Note: The “Ruth” in the excerpt is Dinah Washington

 

As Ruth was settling into the Garrick, Lionel Hampton and his sixteen-piece band were getting ready for a weeklong stay at the Regal that would include a gala Christmas and New Year’s performance with Billie Holiday. It was a heady time for a group that was barely two years old and was riding a wave of ecstatic reviews and sold-out houses. The band had recently made its first recording for Decca.

“Hamp,” as he was universally known, was a consummate showman, a fireplug of energy who inspired his bandmates and thrilled his audiences. “Let it jump, but keep it mellow,” he liked to say. Hampton had started out as a drummer for Louis Armstrong. In 1930, when he was just twenty-two, Armstrong asked him to experiment on the vibraharp, a relatively new instrument that resembled a xylophone but was electrified to give it more kick. Hampton never looked back, though he enjoyed taking a turn on the drums or piano as the spirit moved him.

In 1936 Hampton followed pianist Teddy Wilson into Benny Goodman’s group, making a trio a quartet. It was the first integrated jazz combo — at once a wonderful and sobering experience, the chance to make great music with great exposure but with the constant reminder of racial prejudice. “I don’t know how many times Teddy and I were mistaken for servants — Mr. Goodman’s valet or the water boy for the Benny Goodman orchestra,” Hampton recalled in his autobiography, Hamp. He praised Goodman for trying to protect his musicians as best he could, insisting that they be treated like their white colleagues. On a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to Atlantic City — Hampton’s first ever plane ride — he composed “Flying Home,” the up-tempo instrumental that became his signature song and an audience favorite.

By the late summer of 1940 Hampton was ready to form his own band, encouraged by his wife, Gladys, who was as much partner as mate. She found the musicians, negotiated for instruments, picked the uniforms, got the train tickets, secured hotel rooms, handled the money, and took care of Hampton off the bandstand. It was a partnership that endured even in the early days when, Hampton (something of a philanderer) confessed, “I was a bad boy.”

The band had introduced itself to Chicago in February 1941 when they came for what was supposed to be a six-week stay at the Grand Terrace. On opening night more than a thousand customers were turned away, and the six weeks turned into a four-month engagement. In the fall, Hampton and band returned to Chicago, this time to play the Panther Room. Different venue, different audience — same response. They were a hit. “From seven-thirty until nine, Hamp played music soft but with a jump. From nine on they tore it up,” said Down Beat, which dubbed Hampton “the jumping jack vibe king.”

Hampton was using singers sporadically, though he had asked Billie Holiday to sing with him full-time. She declined because she wanted to be on her own but agreed to do occasional guest appearances. By the end of 1941 Hampton had hired a Chicago man, Rubel Blakey, a singer well-known on the city’s club circuit. Periodically Hampton brought in women singers, too, and when he got to the Regal for the December 1942 run, Lois Anita was on the bill with Blakey even though Holiday was set to do another guest spot. Joe Glaser, who owned Associated Booking Corporation and handled Hampton’s schedule, had been after the bandleader to hire a regular “girl singer,” as Hampton put it. Finally Hampton was giving the idea serious consideration.

In December 1942 he and Ruth were in the same city but they were playing in different worlds. Hampton was on a grand theater stage, Ruth in the second-tier showroom of a small club, albeit on Randolph Street. One was a household name, the other an unknown, not even billed when she sang, not sure what would follow when the Garrick job was over. But if timing is everything, Ruth’s was impeccable. She was ready to be noticed when Hampton was looking.

Many people take credit for the match: Joe Glaser, the comedian Slappy White, and Hampton band member Snooky Young all claim to have suggested that Hampton go to the Garrick to hear Ruth sing. Hampton remembered — erroneously — that Ruth was the washroom attendant who came out into the club every chance she could to sing with whatever band was playing. In a 1952 interview Ruth herself recalled that Joe Sherman brought Joe Glaser to hear her, and that the next night Glaser returned with Hampton.

Whatever the impetus, one night in late December, after his show at the Regal, Hampton went the fifty blocks north to the Garrick. On the small stage, Ruth was finishing her set with the Cats and the Fiddle. She had made good use of her time at the Stagebar, going downstairs every chance she could to watch Holiday in the Downbeat Room. With her gospel background, Ruth already had her own sound, but there was much to be learned about phrasing and emphasis and the intangibles that make a performance memorable. At some point Hampton asked her to sing “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

It would have been understandable to be nervous. The stakes couldn’t be any higher. But Ruth didn’t lack confidence. Although she had just turned eighteen, she had been singing in front of other people since she was ten and began giving solo recitals at fifteen. Now was the time to draw on that experience. This was her moment. By the time she got to “It’s been said she knocks ’em dead when she lands in town,” Ruth had done just that. Hampton was sold.

Even in such an informal audition he appreciated her talent. “I knew she was the girl I was looking for,” Hampton said. He liked her “gutty style.” It wasn’t that she was brassy. Her voice was too crisp and clear for that. But she sang with conviction, direct yet with feeling. Hampton was certain she could be heard “even with my blazing band in the background.”

Hampton invited Ruth to be part of the year-end show at the Regal, which was an hours-long gala each night packaging Hampton’s music with two comedy acts, the Two Zephyrs and Butterbeans and Suzy, one of the most popular duos on the circuit. Billie Holiday was a guest star. Patrons who wanted to see the weekly movie were treated to Eyes in the Night starring Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, and Donna Reed along with a newsreel of All-American Negro News.

There was one more matter. If she was going to sing with a big band, and a hot one at that, the plain and pedestrian “Ruth Jones” would not do. Hampton and Glaser claim credit for giving Ruth a new name. But verifiable chronology suggests it was Joe Sherman who came up with “Dinah Washington.” “You ought to have something that rolls off people’s tongues, like rich liquor,” he explained, and to him “Dinah Washington” fit the bill.

Why “Dinah”? Perhaps it came to mind in tribute to Ethel Waters, a heroine in the black community: a successful singer, success in movies and on Broadway. A decade earlier she had had a hit with the single “Dinah.” More recently, Dinah Shore, the popular white singer, had just signed a movie deal and was in the news. So “Dinah” would strike a chord with blacks and whites.

Why “Washington”? Like Lincoln and Roosevelt, it was the name of a president, thus a name of distinction and not unusual to find in either the white or black community. Together the two words had rhythm, indeed the same rhythm as the names of two current stars, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald: two-syllable first name, three-syllable last. “Dinah Washington” it would be. Trumpeter Red Allen, who was playing at the Downbeat Room, remembered introducing the young singer, “burlesque style as ‘Dynamite Washington.'”

Two years earlier Ruth had left the Regal stage as an amateur, walking off with the few silver dollars the winner took home. Now she was back as Dinah Washington, a professional determined to make the most of it. “She walked out on that stage like she owned it,” Hampton recalled.

A writer for Down Beat happened to take in the show. The next issue included a short article on page four about the performance. “Dinah Washington Has South Side Debut,” said the headline. The story said the audience “was greeted with a surprise introduction when Dinah Washington previewed at the Regal for her first South Side appearance.” “Dianah [sic], currently at the Stagebar in the Loop, showed remarkable ability on all fronts.” Though only one paragraph, the story gave the moment official status, committing to the permanent record the creation of Dinah Washington from the raw material of eighteen-year-old Ruth Jones.

After the show Hampton asked Dinah to go on the road with him. She didn’t hesitate a moment to say yes. And there was more good news: she would get a raise, to $75 a week.

______________________

 

Queen : The Life and Music of Dinah Washington

by

Nadine Cohodas

_____

Excerpt from Queen : The Life and Music of Dinah Washington, by Nadine Cohodas. Copyright © 2004 by Nadine Cohodas. Used by permission of Pantheon Books.

CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Pantheon Books.

 

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

"Nina" by Marsha Hammel
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Winter, 2024 Edition...One-third of the Winter, 2024 collection of jazz poetry is made up of poets who have only come to my attention since the publication of the Summer, 2023 collection. What this says about jazz music and jazz poetry – and this community – is that the connection between the two art forms is inspirational and enduring, and that poets are finding a place for their voice within the pages of this website. (Featuring the art of Marsha Hammel)

The Sunday Poem

"Zambramomania" by Roberto Nucci/CC BY-NC-SA-4.0 DEED
“The Eye Tapes…Monument to my Jazzy Eye” by Anita Lerek

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Black History

The Harlem Globetrotters/photo via Wikimedia Commons
A Black History Month Profile: The Harlem Globetrotters...In this 2005 interview, Ben Green, author of Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters, discusses the complex history of the celebrated Black touring basketball team.

Black History

photo of Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress
A Black History Month Profile: Zora Neale Hurston...In a 2002 interview, Carla Kaplan, editor of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, talks about the novelist, anthropologist, playwright, folklorist, essayist and poet

Black History

Eubie Blake
A Black History Month Profile – Pianist and composer Eubie Blake...In this 2021 Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Eubie Blake biographers Ken Bloom and Richard Carlin discuss the legendary composer of American popular song and jazz during the 20th century

Feature

Jamie Branch's 2023 album "Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))"
On the Turntable— The “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” in 2023 jazz recordings...A year-end compilation of jazz albums oft mentioned by a wide range of critics as being the best of 2023 - including the late trumpeter Jamie Branch's Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))

Essay

"Lester Leaps In" by Tad Richards
"Jazz and American Poetry," an essay by Tad Richards...In an essay that first appeared in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry in 2005, Tad Richards - a prolific visual artist, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer who has been active for over four decades – writes about the history of the connection of jazz and American poetry.

Interview

photo of Pepper Adams/courtesy of Pepper Adams Estate
Interview with Gary Carner, author of Pepper Adams: Saxophone Trailblazer...The author speaks with Bob Hecht about his book and his decades-long dedication to the genius of Pepper Adams, the stellar baritone saxophonist whose hard-swinging bebop style inspired many of the top-tier modern baritone players.

Poetry

art by Russell duPont
These poems are new submissions by six poets relatively new to Jerry Jazz Musician, and are an example of the writing I have the privilege of encountering on a regular basis.

Interview

IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Judith Tick, author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song...The author discusses her book, a rich, emotionally stirring, exceptional work that explores every element of Ella’s legacy in great depth, reminding readers that she was not only a great singing artist, but also a musical visionary and social activist.

Poetry

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole is an occasional series of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film. This edition is influenced by Stillpoint, the 2021 album by Zen practitioner Barrett Martin

Playlist

“Latin Tinges in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...A nine-hour long Spotify playlist featuring songs by the likes of Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal, and Dizzy Gillespie that demonstrates how the Latin music influence on jazz has been present since the music’s beginnings.

Poetry

[Columbia Legacy]
“On Becoming A Jazz Fanatic In The Early 1970’s” – 20 linked short poems by Daniel Brown

Short Fiction

Christerajet, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #64 — “The Old Casino” by J.B. Marlow...The author's award-winning story takes place over the course of a young man's life, looking at all the women he's loved and how the presence of a derelict building informs those relationships.

Feature

George Shearing/Associated Booking Corporation/James Kriegsmann, New York, via Wikimedia Commons
True Jazz Stories: “An Evening With George,” by Terry Sanville...The writer tells his story of playing guitar with a symphony orchestra, backing up jazz legend George Shearing.

Short Fiction

Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/via Picryl.com
“Afloat” – a finalist in the 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest – is about a troubled man in his 40s who lessens his worries by envisioning himself and loved ones on a boat that provides safety and ease for all of them.

Poetry

The poet Connie Johnson in 1981
In a Place of Dreams: Connie Johnson’s album of jazz poetry, music, and life stories...A collection of the remarkable poet's work is woven among her audio readings, a personal narrative of her journey and music she considers significant to it, providing readers the chance to experience the full value of her gifts.

Book Excerpt

Book Excerpt from Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song, by Judith Tick...The author writes about highlights of Ella’s career, and how the significance of her Song Book recordings is an example of her “becoming” Ella.

Community

Nominations for the Pushcart Prize XLVIII

Interview

photo courtesy of Henry Threadgill
Interview with Brent Hayes Edwards, co-author (with Henry Threadgill) of Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music...The author discusses his work co-written with Threadgill, the composer and multi-instrumentalist widely recognized as one of the most original and innovative voices in contemporary music, and the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Playlist

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“A Baker’s Dozen Playlist of Ella Fitzgerald Specialties from Five Decades,” as selected by Ella biographer Judith Tick...Chosen from Ella’s entire repertoire, Ms. Tick’s intriguing playlist (with brief commentary) is a mix of studio recordings, live dates, and video, all available for listening here.

Poetry

"Jazz Trio" by Samuel Dixon
A collection of jazz haiku, Vol. 2...The 19 poets included in this collection effectively share their reverence for jazz music and its culture with passion and brevity.

Jazz History Quiz #169

This trumpeter was in the 1932 car accident that took the life of famed clarinetist/saxophonist Frankie Techemacher (pictured), and is best remembered for his work with Eddie Condon’s bands. Who was he?

Interview

From the Interview Archive: A 2011 conversation with Alyn Shipton, author of Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway...In this interview, Shipton discusses Cab Calloway, whose vocal theatrics and flamboyant stage presence made him one of the country’s most beloved entertainers.

Community

Nominations for the Pushcart Prize XLVIII...announcing the six Jerry Jazz Musician-published writers nominated for the prestigious literary award

Poetry

Gotfryd, Bernard, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“Devotion” – a poem and 11 “Musings on Monk,” by Connie Johnson

Photography

photo of Mal Waldron by Giovanni Piesco
Beginning in 1990, the noted photographer Giovanni Piesco began taking backstage photographs of many of the great musicians who played in Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, that city’s main jazz venue which is considered one of the finest in the world. Jerry Jazz Musician will occasionally publish portraits of jazz musicians that Giovanni has taken over the years. This edition is of the pianist/composer Mal Waldron, taken on three separate appearances at Bimhuis (1996, 2000 and 2001).

Interview

Leffler, Warren K/Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A Black History Month Profile: Civil Rights Leader Bayard Rustin...

Community

FOTO:FORTEPAN / Kölcsey Ferenc Dunakeszi Városi Könyvtár / Petanovics fényképek, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
.“Community Bookshelf, #1"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Short Fiction

photo by Thomas Leuthard/Wikimedia Commons
“The Winslows Take New Orleans” a short story by Mary Liza Hartong...This story, a finalist in the recently concluded 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest, tells the tale of Uncle Cheapskate and Aunt Whiner, those pesky relatives you love to hate and hate to love.

Short Fiction

painting of Gaetano Donizetti by Francesco Coghetti/via Wikimedia Commons
“A Single Furtive Tear” – a short story by Dora Emma Esze...A short-listed entry in the recently concluded 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest, the story is a heartfelt, grateful monologue to one Italian composer, dead and immortal of course, whose oeuvre means so much to so many of us.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950’s Quartets...Long regarded as jazz music’s most eminent baritone saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan was a central figure in “cool” jazz whose contributions to it also included his important work as a composer and arranger. Noted jazz scholar Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950s Quartets, and Jerry Jazz Musician contributing writer Bob Hecht discuss Mulligan’s unique contributions to modern jazz.

Book Excerpt

“Chick” Webb was one of the first virtuoso drummers in jazz and an innovative bandleader dubbed the “Savoy King,” who reigned at Harlem’s world-famous Savoy Ballroom. Stephanie Stein Crease is the first to fully tell Webb’s story in her biography, Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat that Changed America…The book’s entire introduction is excerpted here.

Short Fiction

pixabay.com via Picryl.com
“The Silent Type,” a short story by Tom Funk...The story, a finalist in the recently concluded 64th Short Fiction Contest, is inspired by the classic Bob Dylan song “Tangled Up in Blue” which speculates about what might have been the back story to the song.

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music, by Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Art

Designed for Dancing: How Midcentury Records Taught America to Dance: “Outtakes” — Vol. 2...In this edition, the authors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder share examples of Cha Cha Cha record album covers that didn't make the final cut in their book

Pressed for All Time

“Pressed For All Time,” Vol. 17 — producer Joel Dorn on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1967 album, The Inflated Tear

Coming Soon

An interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 - 1960;  an interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? An Oral History of the 60's Girl Groups;  a new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive