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Dinah Washington on Video

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Of all the many female jazz singers, Dinah Washington remains the most contemporary. Her voice was always cocked and loaded, her phrasing was akin to the sound of a getaway car, and her attitude told you she was not only charge but that you didn't really have a say. Washington was the embodiment of the crossover singer-storyteller—sliding effortlessly between R&B, jazz and pop without ever giving up her soul.

Unfortunately, too few of her performances exist on film. The problem is she never made it into the post-Civil Rights Acts era, when TV became more integrated and black jazz performers were invited onto variety shows with white hosts. Washington died in 1963, a year before the act was passed.

Yesterday, Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services sent along a link to a performance by Washington on March 8, 1960 at the Apollo Theater. On this NBC footage, Washington is singing What a Difference a Day Made and Makin' Whoopee. What's extraordinary is her composure and how she delivers the lyrics—improvising here and there to make a point. Other than Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960) and a few other rare appearances, this is all we have.

Here's Dinah Washington at the Apollo...



Here she is, circa 1958, singing Bessie Smith...



And here she is in 1956...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.

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