Rhythm And Blues: Ruth Brown

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Most people will tell you that that R&B stands for ‘rhythm and blues,’ but some will still argue that it stands for Ruth Brown. A talented R&B singer throughout the 1950s and later in life a successful theater actress, Ruth Brown reshaped the music industry with her bluesy, storytelling ballads and her signature squeaks. Nicknamed “Miss Rhythm” by “Mr. Rhythm” Frankie Laine and called the original diva, Ruth Brown was influential in bridging the gap between the blues and R&B. Ruth Brown faced segregation and racism issues throughout her career, but continued to be a successful and influential artist. Ruth Brown was also a champion for artists’ rights, helping to reform the royalty system.
Ruth Brown, born Ruth Alston Weston, was the oldest
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Brown attended I.C. Norcom High School, previously known as High Street School, which was a legally segregated school in Portsmouth, Virginia. While in high school, she would tell her family that she was going to choir practice and sneak out to perform at USO clubs at the nearby naval bases. Despite being caught by her father, due to him attending one of the clubs and seeing her on stage, she persisted with her dreams and continued to performed on the military circuit, eventually taking a trip to New York City. During this trip, Ruth won first prize at the Apollo Theaters’ amateur night. She won the $15 prize and was offered a week-long spot performing. Brown accepted the money, but turned down the gig as she was afraid her family would discover what she was doing.
During her time performing at USO clubs, Ruth Brown met Jimmy Brown, known later as Jumpin’ Jimmy Brown, the trumpeter. In 1945, at the age of 17, Ruth ran away from home with Jimmy Brown, marrying him shortly after. The two ran away to Detroit, Michigan, singing in bars and clubs, hoping to make it big. It was while she was in Detroit that she was discovered by Lucky Millinder. She became a member of his orchestra and spent a few weeks performing with them before Millinder fired her for carrying drinks over to her fellow bandmates, feeling that she
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She faced difficulties trying to make her music appeal to listeners. She was considered too adult for white, teenage audiences and was too R&B for the general pop market. Brown was unable to follow the lesser voices into the riches of the pop world, which led to her decline in popularity. Brown’s jazz band flavor worked well for her voice, but restricted her appeal in a crossover era. Brown faced much racism and segregation throughout her career, including being arrested for changing in a whites-only bathroom and being held at gunpoint by police officers. Brown did not let these things stop her, instead she used them as fuel and continued to work towards having a successful singing, and later acting,

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