The Queen of Rhythm & Blues

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Born Ruth Weston, on January 30, 1928, she was the firstborn of seven children raised in a deeply religious household in Portsmouth, VA. Known as "The Girl With The Tear in her Voice," "The Original Queen of Rhythm & Blues, "Miss Rhythm & Blues," and the well-known moniker of "Miss Rhythm," Ruth Brown was  the first rhythm-and-blues singer whose hits in the 1950s made Atlantic Records "the house that Ruth built". Late in life, she revived her career as the Tony Award-winning star of the musical revue "Black and Blue".

Her introduction to music was when she was installed in the junior choir of the Emmanuel AME Church where she received vocal coaching from her father, the choir director. In the Weston household, the only music allowed was religious. Still, Ruth developed an interest in popular music when she started to work behind the soda fountain at the local USO club after school and convinced the director to let her sing in the shows.

Ruth soon won a talent contest at Harlem's Apollo Theatre. Later, while performing at a Washington, DC nightclub, she was noticed by a local deejay who contacted the top brass at Atlantic Records. Signed on the spot, Ruth gave the fledgling company its second ever hit "So Long," a simple blues showcase for her trochee, church-and-jazz-schooled voice.

Her second single,  "Teardrops From My Eyes," brought out her more swaggering, aggressive side, and she was awarded with her first number one R&B hit. For the duration of the 1950's, she dominated the R&B charts with such red-hot singles as "5-10-15 Hours" and "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean." Brown's two dozen hit records helped Atlantic secure its footing in the record industry, a track record for which the young label was referred to as "The House That Ruth Built." The relationship would last until 1961, at which point she jumped to another label with middling success.

With the onset of the turbulent 60's, musical styles made a transition. Ruth was thrust into the role of single mother, raising two boys alone, forcing her to take jobs as a maid, school bus driver and head start teacher, limiting her singing to weekends only for awhile.

The story might have ended there, but Brown enjoyed a career renaissance in the mid-seventies when she  recorded blues and jazz for a variety of labels. In September 1979, she made her first overseas tour, going to Japan with an all-star band, as part of the touring Monterey Jazz Festival. The following year, she made a tour of Europe sponsored by Route 66 Records in Sweden. Upon her return to the United States, she starred in Allen Toussaint's off-Broadway musical "Stagger Lee" and made a spectacular splash in the John Waters film Hairspray as "Motormouth Maybelle."

She hosted the Harlem Hit Parade series on National Public Radio and won the 1989 "Best Actress in a Musical" Tony® Award for her role in the Broadway musical Black and Blue, after appearing in the original Paris production. Also, in 1989 she received her first Grammy® Award for the album Blues On Broadway.

Other accolades include a 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award from The Blues Foundation, The Ralph Gleason Award for Music Journalism (for her 1996 autobiography "Miss Rhythm: The Autobiography of Ruth Brown"), two W.C. Handy Awards and a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which was founded as a direct result of efforts by and on behalf of Ruth to foster wider recognition and provide financial assistance to rhythm and blues musicians of any stature. Ruth was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 along with Etta James and Sly & The Family Stone.

Brown suffered a stroke in the spring of 2000, and a heart attack. She passed away on November 17, 2006, in Las Vegas, Nevada, at
78. Ruth Brown was truly a living legend!