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Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington Paperback – December 1, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A significant blues and jazz diva, Washington rivaled Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith with her soulful singing and her tempestuous ways. Once known as "Queen of the Blues and Queen of the Juke Boxes," Washington lived a tumultuous life, ascending to early fame with Lionel Hampton's band and flirting with all the temptations of a musician's life on the road. Drawing on archival materials and interviews with the singer's fellow musicians, Cohodas (Spinning Blues into Gold; Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change) provides a much-needed portrait of Washington. Born Ruth Jones in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1924, the young singer and her family soon moved to Chicago, where Jones left school to pursue a singing career. By the time she was 18, Washington was singing with Hampton's band at the Apollo Theater. In a few years she had made such a name for herself that she left Hampton for her own solo career, recording an album almost every year for the next 20 years until her death in 1963. Cohodas provides a detailed chronological account of Washington's turbulent life and career, including her seven marriages. Although Cohodas swamps the reader with a mass of exhausting details and her interpretations of Washington's music sometimes lack depth, she has written the definitive biography of this important singer.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

When Dinah Washington (1924-63) died, she seemed poised to become the female Nat Cole--the first black woman to be America's favorite pop singer. Her career had already spanned more than 20 years, and she had become first the queen of the blues, sophisticated big-band variety, and then a premier jazz singer before turning to the orchestrated pop treatments of "This Bitter Earth" and "What a Difference a Day Makes" that began making her a household name. This exhaustive biography-- Cohodas seems to have found every scrap of writing about her and talked to every living soul who knew her--shows that no one worked harder for her success than Washington herself. Indeed, she probably overworked herself, and what Cohodas characterizes as her premonitory sense of her image--that is, her determination, before thinness became an American obsession, to be remarkably svelte at all costs--indubitably killed her. Although it doesn't include enough appreciation of her honey-and-vinegar voice and her recorded legacy to please Dinah devotees, this is an invaluable document. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Billboard Books; 1st edition (December 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0823084477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823084470
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,522,625 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nadine Cohodas is the author of several books, most recently Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington, which received an award for Excellence in Research in Recorded Jazz Music from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Bay Area Book Fiend on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Dinah Washington, like Etta James and Esther Phillips, is one of the underrated singers of the post WWII era, and very little has been written about her. So when I saw this book and who its author was,(Nadine Cohodas, who wrote a superb history of Chess Records,Spinning Blues Into Gold), I eagerly anticipated reading it.

After finishing it, unfortunately I'm still waiting for the definitive biography of the Queen. It's very apparent that Cohodas did a lot of research, but the result was turned into a laundry list of club dates, recording sessions, clothes inventories, and rotating musicians and husbands which becomes numbing. What is missing is context and interpretation of these events aside from the repetitive assertion that Washington was narrowly promoted and marketed because of race. I wasn't looking for sensationalism or psychobiography from this book, but I was hoping to gain some insight into Dinah Washington's life, or music, and the lack of analysis left me still wondering both who she was and how she created such wonderful music.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Pangburn VINE VOICE on November 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I finished this book while listening to her multiple CD collections. The book gets five stars for its scholarship, its extensive notes, its all inclusive index.

But still it seems too cold for the subject at hand, or perhaps I'm just disappointed that Dinah Washington was more shallow than I imagined her to be. Probably the latter.

Also Cohodas's appraisal of the albums I enjoyed most is just the opposite of what I feel myself. What I hear as honest and tragic, the biography calls tired and too husky. And the other way around.

I had no idea that Dinah Washington did "It's Too Soon To Know" before Etta James (who owns the song in my estimation). Etta James came later, and she idolized Dinah Washington and made her sound her own, strings and all.

When Etta James spotted Dinah Washington in the audience at the nightclub where she was singing, she abandoned her original program and sang "Unforgettable" as a tribute to her idol. The song was broken up by Dinah Washington screaming at her, pointing a finger at her saying, "Girl, don't you ever try to do the Queen's songs."

According to Cohodas, Dinah Washington's lovers, to whom she dedicated songs, were usually gone by the time the records were released. She was married seven times and had many lovers in-between. Such as the "Rafael" she mentions on her cover of Irving Berlin's "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm."

Dinah was dead at thirty-nine, but her music lives on and always will for this listener. This biography reminds me again that Art is part the author and part the reader, part the singer and part the listener. What I hear in her music has not changed.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. Brady on October 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't agree more with the reviewer here who calls this biography "dry." "Queen" is an exhausting, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink look into the life and music of Dinah Washington. The pace is maddeningly slow - it's certainly not what I'd call a "page-turner" - and it is full of minute details but little insight. Informative, sure, but in the right hands all this detail could have been compiled into a book that is an enjoyment to read, not something that seemed ( for me, at least ) more like a homework assignment.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By L. Langford on September 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is a little disappointing. I love Dinah Washington's voice and, knowing she'd led an interesting life, I thought this book might provide some insight into her music. Instead, the book is more of a laundry list of music charts, reviews, and musicians. I'd recommend the Sam Cooke biography, You Send Me, or the great Bob Marley bio, Catch a Fire instead.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sasha VINE VOICE on July 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
Because no one has ever written about legendary Dinah Washington before (at least not published in Europe),I snatched this book immediately just to find it a bit overwhelming & too detailed.Where author dazzled in her previous book,this time she seems she wasn't sure is she writting about Washington or the whole afro-american society of post WW2 America.Sure,she had done her homework and reasearched high and low (future authors will have to rely on her) but after a while,the book turns into list of every concert performance Washington ever gave in her life,therefore a bit dry.Strange how vital and exciting singer like Washington ended up with such uninspired biographer! The little episodes,like the only time this overworked woman spent time with her family in Disneyland tell much more than all the concerts and recording dates.I love Washington dearly and thanks to her music legacy,for me she lives forever.Read the book if you are curious,but stick to the music.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ravel on May 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
Oh Dear Dinah, your life & music deserves more than a mere listing of your shows and records in such a big collage(awfully long to read)of a book! I guess it is well researched but are magazine writings reliable? Not really.
I DO know more about Washington, for sure...
It is not the 1st book of the kind I read, certainly not the last but hopefully, not another one like this in the near future...
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