Ruth Brown was the first rhythm-and-blues singer. Every black woman before her was either a jazz , blues or gospel vocalist. Ruth Brown was all of those with the added element of rhythm. Throughout the 1950s Brown churned out dozens of R&B hits, including her million-selling standards "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," "5-10-15 Hours," "Teardrops From My Eyes" and "So Long." After falling from the limelight in the '60s, Brown drove a school bus and scrubbed floors to support her young sons and keep her life together.
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Since the early '80s, however, Brown has experienced a beautiful career renaissance that has seen her starring on Broadway in Black & Blue, winning a Tony award and her first Grammy award. Her sophomore Rounder Records album project, A Good Day for the Blues, finds Brown in superb voice and retelling her dramatic life story through a dozen poignant songs. Since no one tells a story like Ruth Brown, let's let her tell you about her new album. . .
Ruth Brown: "It's 'a good day for the blues' anytime that you can sing the blues out of just caring about the music rather than having to experience the blues. The world is just starting to take a hold to the blues and what it was about when the people who were responsible for creating it were making it. It's a little different nowadays. There are a lot of persons who profess to be playing or singing the blues and they are doing it from a different point of view. In the years when the real blues artists were singing it, it came from a very personal place. They were going through all kinds of social injustices and the music had to be performed under real dire circumstances. Now, the blues has been accepted as a very cultural part of society. There are blues clubs all over the world in so many numbers that I can't name them. But this song's lyrics fits into some of the things that I had to deal with in the past. It says, 'Got up early one morning so I could walk the floor, I got to hit the street 'cuz there's a wolf outside my door.' That happened to be the truth many times in my life when the music business turned its back on me. And you find when you grow older and grab hold to tunes, you end up giving them a different meaning if you can deal with it from a personal point of view. When they brought that song to me, I said 'Yes, I can do that. I believe I can do that with conviction.' It turns out it was one of the best tracks and that's why it's track number one.
"You gotta do a little everything to catch your ear. The rhythm patterns will catch your ear. That's why we put 'Can't Stand a Broke Man,' 'Hangin' By a Shoestring' and 'Ice Water in Your Veins' which Johnny Otis wrote, on there. The average person will automatically start shaking their shoulders or dance. Just like 'A Good Day for the Blues.' Bill Easley, my tenor player who has been with me a long time, wrote that chart. It's a great introduction but what I think of right away is Screaming Jay Hawkins coming up out of that coffin on the stage at the Apollo. He had that 'I Put a Spell on You' and when they do that intro that's what I think of. I think it's important that that's the first track because if the DJ puts the needle down on the first track and don't like it, he may not go no further.
"For me, any day that people are kind enough to give me their attention after having done this for 53 years, it's a good day for the blues. It's a different kind of day for the blues. But fortunately, the young people don't have to deal with it from the point of view that I did. I'm hoping they'll pay attention to it and know what really good music it is. In 1948 when I signed with Atlantic Records they really didn't know what category to put me in because I was singing torch songs, country-and-western, everything. But the year of 1953 brought about a tune called 'Teardrops From My Eyes' and then I did '5-10-15 Hours.' It was a change in the rhythm patterns and it stayed high on the charts about 17 or 18 weeks, which was indeed a record at that time. After that, I became known as an R&B singer and, mostly in the beginning, I was known as 'R&B,' which is Ruth Brown really. So I was dubbed the top R&B singer in the early '50s but prior to that I wasn't known as that. I now say that R&B stands for rhythm-and-blues. But, first it stood for Ruth Brown. That's very egotistical, but you got to find some material somewhere.
"There's another side to this now, sweetheart, and I'm very easy to say the blues ain't black no more. It used to be. The blues now means green. That's money. There's a lot of money into it now and everybody's decided that it's now a respectable kind of music. It wasn't always that way.
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