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Dusty Springfield

Updated: Mar 10, 2023



One of the notable figures of the musical "British Invasion", she is considered one of Britain’s finest and most elegant voices. A singer performer, and record producer, expressing herself through a variety of genres, from pop/rock to jazz, to disco, to R&B, to the blue-eyed soul. Part of her legacy was greatly influenced by American music such as singer Peggy Lee, and the Motown sound. Her true love for music came from her father, Gerard Anthony O’Brien, who was a pianist. He introduced her variety of sounds where she embraced classical music, blues and jazz, Brazilian samba, and pop. Also, her mother Catherine Anne "Kay" O’Brien (Born Rule) shared a common passion for cinema musicals with her.


Dusty was originally born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, on April 16, 1939, in West Hampstead London, an area of the London Borough of Camden. She started her musical journey in the trio called the Lana Sisters, formed in 1958 with peer singers Iris ‘Riss’ Long, and Lynne Abrams. At that time, her stage name was Shan. They were signed to Fontana records where they released a few singles between 1958 and 1960. Among the released singles I really enjoy the songs titled "Mister Dee Jay", "My Mother's Eyes", "Someone Love’s You Joe", "Down South" and "You've Got What It Takes".


At the early age of 13, before the Lana Sisters, she was already experimenting with music with her brother. She actually has records from that time that has survived. Nevertheless, it is only in 1960, at her brother's request, that she joined and formed the folk trio called the Springfields. The trio was composed of her brother Dionysius P. A. O’Brien A.K.A. Tom Springfield, his friend Tim Feild, and her. This is when she became Dusty Springfield. She was said to be very shy, and insecure by nature, as well as a musical perfectionist, which gave her the title of diva along the way. Indeed, at 17 she started from that shy nerdy straight catholic girl and transformed into that giant phenomenon called Dusty Springfield.


We can easily see or hear that they were having fun making music with their diversified approach, jumping from one style or another, singing in Spanish, etc. It reflects on some of their hits such as "Breakaway", "Bambino", and "Say I Won’t Be There" Which have reached the top-selling charts in the U.K. The trio was active from 1960 to 1963 and allowed her to flourish, and reach an American audience with songs such as "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" (Top 20). She has been able to travel America and blend with the musical environment of the era and had the opportunity to record in Nashville. This is when she found her heart, in the soulful sound of Motown, so much to fly to her solo career in 1963.


Along with these events, she started by releasing her first single "I Only Want To Be With You" composed by Michael Hawker and Ivor Raymonde in 1963. Ivor Raymonde who had already worked with the Springfields. So she also collaborated with the two on "Stay Awhile" which was well celebrated by the audience. The song "I Only Want To Be With You" would later be successfully covered by The Tourists, originally composed of Jim Toomey, Eddie Chin, Annie Lennox, Peet Coombes, and Dave Stewart, better known more recently as the Eurythmics. Dusty added another hit to her catalog by collaborating with Buddy Kaye and Philip Springer on "All Cried Out". teaming with Bea Verdi in "Little by Little" and "In the Middle of Nowhere".


Her dramatic soulful sound reached the British top 5, and the top 10 in the US. Making her one of the major acts from the UK, along with the Beatles to reach US soil. Her collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Hal David gave birth to smash hits such as « Wishin and Hopin », also, she rendered a beautiful cover of the classic « Anyone Who Had A Heart » and her own interpretation of « I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself » who was also covered by Dionne Warwick. I can’t forget her rendering of « The Look Of Love » which is one of her memorable classics (1965). By then, her prominence as a female British pop star was already established.


Dusty is often regarded as the one to open the door for UK artists to the American market. She also has been a great influence to many, such as Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink, Elvis Costello, The Tourist (Eurythmic), Elton John, the Beatles, etc. In fact, Dusty was the host of a show called "Ready Steady Go!" which aired from 1963 to 1966. She was the host of the early episodes of the show, and had the opportunity, to interview the Beatles on their first ever TV appearance (October 1963), where they performed "Twist And Shout", "I’ll Get You» and "She Loves You". Ironically, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, one of the directors of "Ready Steady Go" was also the director of the Beatles movie "Let It Be".


We can also say that Dusty Springfield was a great advocate of the Motown sound. She introduced and championed the Motown sound as well as Soul music to the UK audience. On April 28, 1965, she hosted a television special (RSG) in promotion of Motown artists such as the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, the Temptations, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, and the Earl Van Dyke Sextet. She was embedded enough in black culture to be labeled as "The White. Negresse", once by Cliff Richard, and on a newspaper headline by Norman Jopling, in the Record Mirror Newspaper (6 April 1963).


Dusty had a particularly interesting position on the apartheid. She was clearly anti-segregation. She refused to sing for segregated crowds. For her South African tour in 1964, she actually inserted an anti-apartheid clause into her contract so that she would only play to non-segregated crowds. Men from the government were pressing Dusty and her manager to agree to play to segregated audiences, but they refused. She was actually forced to leave South Africa for that very reason.


This event didn’t put a stop to her career, she continued to make hits like "losing you", "Your Hurting Kinda Love" and "In the Middle of Nowhere". The following year (1966) she received the world’s embrace with her ballad « You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me » number 1 in the UK and in the US top 5. She reached the British top 10 in her collaboration with Ben Weisman. And Clive Westlake on « All I See Is You ». From 1963 to 1967, she remained consistent in releasing great albums worth to be explored in depth. On the album titled "Where Am I Going?", she renders an excellent performance in "If You Go Way" an adaptation of Jacques Brel’s "Ne Me Quitte Pas". Not to forget her appearance on Georges Garvarentz's soundtrack of the movie "The Corrupt Ones" singing a song of the same title.


In 1968, she signed with Atlantic Records, at this moment we can clearly perceive her vocal mastery, the embodiment of the soul, the character, the elegance, and the sweetness of her voice. She released "Dusty in Memphis" in 1969 collaborating with producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin. She has been able to appeal to a world audience with "Son Of A Preacher Man", originally written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins. The album itself was very well-received by the critics. Some may recognize "Son Of A Preacher Man" from Quentin Tarantino’s movie "Pulp Fiction". Tarantino said that he would’ve cut the scene if he hadn’t found the right song for it. Dusty actually received her first and only platinum record from the pulp fiction soundtrack. The song was also sampled on Cypress Hill’s song "Hits From The Bong". On my part, personally fell in love with her when I heard her performance of "Windmills Of Your Mind" by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Michel Legrand. Though the album wasn’t a commercial success at the time, looking back, many agree that it was a masterpiece. Around the same period, we can also find duet performances of her and Charles Aznavour interlacing the French and English languages in sweet serenades.


For the ’70s, Dusty wanted to start fresh, and released albums like "A Brand New Me" (1970), collaborating with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff on the production and composition. She has been able to grasp some of that Philly soul while recording her album there. In the same year, she released "From Dusty with Love". Between 1971 and 1979, she released albums like "This Is Dusty Springfield", "See All Her Faces" with a beautiful adaptation of Aznavour "Hier Encore", and the classic "Cameo" in 1973, which hasn’t been successful commercially. From there, she relocated to the US, moving from New York to Los Angeles, where she signed with ABC/Dunhill. Following this, she released projects like "This Is Dusty Springfield Volume 2 - The Magic Garden", and worked on the unreleased album "Longing" (1974); only to be released as a compilation called "Beautiful Soul". To my opinion, a really enjoyable project to listen to. She kept going in releasing projects like "Dusty Springfield Sings Burt Bacharach and Carole King", "It Begins Again" produced by Roy Thomas Baker, and "Living Without Your Love" (1979).


From the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies we can hear her vocal contributions to many albums. She used the pseudonym "Gladys Thong" when working as a background vocal singer. Dusty supported vocally Madeline Bell, and Kiki Dee, who were also backup singers on her previous projects. In The late ’70s, Dusty also collaborated with the Canadian country artist Anne Murray on the song "I Just Fall In Love Again". More recently, Anne Murray actualized the song and blended Dusty’s Voice with hers. That new version is part of Anne’s "Duets: Friends and Legends". She also supported Anne Murray on the album "Together". And Not to forget, she paired with her friend Madeline Bell on two songs of Elton John’s "Tumbleweed Connection", and on the album Caribou.


Dusty has been really productive despite the decline of her success, her struggle with drugs, her mental illness, and the challenges coming with her sexual orientation. She once openly said in an interview that she was attracted by men as well as women. This was also a period when she put herself in toxic environments and surrounded herself by people, who had a bad influence on her. All this was weighing on her at that time. It affected her career and finances, not to say her health.


In the 1980’s she allowed herself to be in an exploratory mode and surfed on new wave, synth pop, and rock sounds. She went in many directions sonically. Upon her return to London, she landed the album "White Heat" with many credited writing features, such as Sting, Tommy Faragher, Mary Unobsky, Dean Pitchford, Tom Snow, Robbie Buchanan, Jay Gruska, Carole Pope, and Kevan Staples. This album was welcomed by the critics, yet again failed to reach commercial success. By the end of the 80s, she released a few singles like "Private Number" produced by Allan McDougall and Spencer Davis, who also sang in a duet with Dusty.


In 1985 Dusty signed to the label Hippodrome founded by Peter Stringfellow, and David Martin. She only recorded one single titled "Sometimes Like Butterflies" which is in re-issue currently. A second single titled "My Life Is A Disaster" was proposed to her, but she refused to perform it. In 1987, she added another single to her catalog, with modest success in the US, titled "Something In Your Eyes" partnering with Richard Carpenter.


The same year, despite her reluctance, she threw herself into a new adventure that ended to be really gratifying. While in California, she was contacted by Christopher Sean Lowe and Neil Tennant, better known as the Pet Shop Boys, inviting her to collaborate on a duet titled "What Have I Done to Deserve This?". One month later, on September 1987, they added the single to their second studio album titled "Actually". This was a very great move for her career, the single was successful worldwide, and reached the top 2 in the UK and the US charts. She has been able to present herself anew to a fresh audience, bridging the generational gap.


From there, she started the 90s with a bang, by releasing her following album titled "Reputation" The Pet Shop Boys had great input on that album. Out of the album, "Daydreaming" caught my attention because she actually raps in that one. I also enjoyed "Nothing Has Been Proved" Sonically, vocally, and arrangement-wise. There is also "Occupy your Mind" to name a few. It was a perfect blend between the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty, which brought her to the same level of glory that she knew during the 60s. In 1995 she went country, with the album recorded in Nashville titled "A Very Fine Love". It was a very difficult moment for her because she was struggling with Breast cancer. Despite several treatments, that put her to rest for a brief moment, cancer resurged a year later (1996).


On March 2, 1999, she saw her last day while in Henley-on-Thames, in the South Oxfordshire District, Oxfordshire, England. She was only 59. She was baptized as a Catholic, so she was celebrated in a Catholic fashion, at her departure. Her sepulcher was in St. Mary the Virgin Churchyard, with hundreds of fans, friends, and peers from the music business. A marker commemorating her was placed in the church graveyard. One of Dusty’s wishes, as she said in her last interview with the New York Times, was to go back to Ireland. Her Brother Dionysius granted her wish by taking a portion of her ashes to the sea of the cliffs of Moher, her favorite place.


"Up to two weeks following her departure, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is said that Elton John helped her get into the Hall of Fame. He said that she was a songwriter’s singer. He also says of Dusty "I’m biased but I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been … every song she sang, she claimed as her own".


Awards Prizes & Nominations


New Musical Express

NME - Dusty Springfield: Best Female Vocalist (1964)

NME - Dusty Springfield: World Female Singer and Top British Singer (1965)

NME - Dusty Springfield: British Female Singer (1966)

NME - Dusty Springfield: World’s Top Female Singer (1967)

NME - Dusty Springfield: Nomination World Female Singer (1971)


Brit Awards

BA - Dusty Springfield: British Female Solo Artist (1977)

BA - Dusty Springfield: British Female Solo Artist (1991)


Grammy Awards

GA - Dusty Springfield: Nomination - 9th Annual Grammy Awards - Best Contemporary (R&R) Solo Vocal Performance - Male Or Female « You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me » (1966)

GA - Dusty Springfield: Nomination - 12th Annual Grammy Awards - Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female « Son Of A Preacher Man » (1969)

GHOFA - Grammy Hall Of Fame Award - Honored for « Dusty In Memphis » (2000)

GHOFA - Grammy Hall Of Fame Award - Honored for « Give Me Time » and « The Look Of Love » (2007)


St-Louis Critic Association (US)

SLFCA Award - Nomination for movie: The Boat That Rocked (2009)

Nomination shared with: The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Turtles, Jimi Hendrix, Duffy, Procol Harum, The Box Tops, The Beach Boys, The Seekers, The Who, Smokey Robinson, Chris Andrews, Skeeter Davis, The Troggs, Jeff Beck, The Hollies, David Bowie, The Tremolos, and Lorraine Ellison.


Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

RARHOF - Inducted By Elton John - Category: Performers (1999)


UK Music Hall Of Fame

UKHOF - Inductee of the 3rd UK Hall Of Fame November 14th (2006)

And More…


Sources:

Documentary - Just Dusty: The Real Dusty Springfield

The Ultimate Beatles Experience - Beatles Interviews Database: Beatles Interview: The Public Ear 10/3/1963 - Jay Spangler, www.beatlesinterviews.org http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1963.1003.beatles.html

All music: Dusty Springfield Bio By Jason Ankeny

BBC Sounds - Witness Of History - Dusty Plays South Africa - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0123653

RSG! The Sound Of Motown 1965:

BBC News - Stars Join Hall Of Fame - Tuesday, 16 March, 1999 13:51 GMT http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/295942.stm

Rock’s Backpages Library: The Springfields: The White Negress Norman Jopling, Record Mirror, 6 April 1963 "THAT'S WHAT THEY CALL ME" – DUSTY SPRINGFIELD




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