Om Dinah Washington
A great jazz and pop vocalist who excelled at the blues, Dinah Washington had a sharp, powerful voice that she wielded with knife-like precision. Washington's open and direct (yet smartly controlled) style was extremely popular throughout the 1950s with black audiences, and by the late-'50s she had crossed over to the white pop market with big hits such as "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes," which combined a jazz and blues feel with Nashville-style arrangements. Washington loved after hour jam sessions, and also released a stellar series of jazz albums on Mercury (now Verve Records) that included many of the greatest musicians of the day. Known for her full figure, strong personality, hard-living lifestyle, and multiple marriages, Washington was something of an Elisabeth Taylor/Marilyn Monroe for the African-American community: always in the news, she was almost as famous for newspaper headlines, funny quips, and her fun fashion sense as she was for her music. She died of an accidental overdose while going on a crash diet in December 1963. Washington rightly remains extremely popular in jazz and vocal circles, and she's a major influence on R&B in general and artists such as Ray Charles, Etta James and Aretha Franklin in particular.