Dusty Springfield





Born Mary O'Brien in London England in 1939, Dusty Springfield was one of the top female vocalists of the 60s with hits on both the UK and USA pop charts, several of which were in the top ten.

Dusty's training ground was as part of a female trio called The Lana Sisters. She responded to an advertisement for a third member to join an 'established sister act' and was accepted. Here she developed the art of harmonising, learned microphone technique, recorded, did some television and played live both in the UK and at American Airbases. Dusty was eventually approached by her brother to join his band, the Springfields. As a folk trio, The Springfields, had hits in the UK with "Say I Won't Be There" and "Island Of Dream, as well as a top twenty song in the USA with "Silver Threads And Golden Needles".

By 1962 Dusty was becoming restless. After a trip to America she had heard The Exciters singing "Tell Him" and was gripped by what she describes as "the most exciting thing I had ever heard, the attack in it!" The Springfields were becoming increasingly caught between the tensions of pop and folk and Dusty finally left the trio in 1963.

Dusty was now free to explore her love of American Black music and her first solo single at the end of 1963, "I Only Want To Be With You" achieved gold status in the UK and began to reveal the link between soul and pop that Dusty was to make her own. The first album "A Girl Called Dusty" revealed the R&B love affair that Dusty enjoyed, producing a raw sound that enabled deeper exploration that singles aimed at the commercial market perhaps could not provide. Hits flowed from here on in, the follow up single "Stay Awhile" peaked at number 13 and the third single "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" hit number 3, with only The Rolling Stones and The Beatles beating her to the top spot.

Dusty was on a roller coaster of success, and from 1963 - 1969 she made the UK chart seventeen times, scoring ten top ten singles, including "Wishin' and Hopin'" and her biggest hit, "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" which hit the number one spot in 1966, (number 4 in the USA) and remained on the UK chart for thirteen weeks. However, the heavy touring and publicity appearances necessary for this level of success were taking a toll on her health, producing bouts of laryngitis that have followed Dusty at times of stress throughout her career.

Dusty Springfield was a big fan of Motown-type songs and was one of only a few white singers who could successfully replicate such songs. She paid close attention to which tunes she would agree to record and which she would not, which set her apart from rivals such as Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black in the UK. This ability to choose the right songs contributed a great deal to her success in the recording industry.

Until the late 60's, Dusty had recorded for the Phillips label, but in 1969, she collaborated with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic to record the album that many regard as her best, "Dusty in Memphis". It included still another top ten song, "Son-Of-A Preacher Man".

In 1972 Dusty moved to Los Angeles. She recorded her album "Cameo" in 1973 then backed off from recording for a few years, save for some back-up work with Anne Murray. Her records were not selling as well as they had in the 60's, and Dusty began to get involved in animal welfare causes. K-Tel compiled an album called "The Very Best Of Dusty Springfield" in the early 80's that is a good representation of her music. Her long-awaited return came in 1978 with "It Begins Again" and in 1982 with "Whiteheat", but neither album sold very well.

Another attempt, backed by London nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow in 1986, met with similar results. But a song she did in 1987 with the British act The Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" was a smashing success and brought her all the way to number two on the USA charts. She sounds as good on this one as she does on anything she ever recorded. Dusty returned to England permanently in 1987.

1994 was the lead up to a new album, recorded in Nashville. A new greatest hits compilation was released, making the top 5 in the UK as well as a box set of both released and unreleased material. A documentary, "Full Circle", was also screened and the inclusion of "Son Of A Preacher Man" in the hit movie "Pulp Fiction" had Dusty Springfield on everyone's mind again. But the new album failed to materialise.

It is now known that, at this time, Dusty was diagnosed as having breast cancer. The new album was postponed to allow her time to have treatment. Once she was given the all clear, "A Very Fine Love" was released in 1995, but the momentum had been lost and the album was not a success, suffering from unfair comparisons to the classic "Dusty In Memphis" album.

She appeared to have beaten the cancer a year later, but there was a re-occurrence in 1996 and her health deteriorated. She died on March 2nd, 1999, just eleven days before she was scheduled for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A biography by Lucy O'Brien titled simply "Dusty" hit the book stores in April, 1999. Later, the same year she was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

Perhaps one the greatest compliments paid to Dusty Springfield came from her agent, Paul Fenn, shortly after her death. "She was one of the icons of the music industry", Fenn said. "She was one of the most talented female singers of this century."

Dusty Springfield was placed among the Top 25 female Rock artists of all time by the readers of Mojo magazine in 1999 and by a panel of artists for VH1 TV in 2007. In 2008, Dusty was ranked at #35 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Various films and stage musicals continue to commemorate her.

We have lost the singer, but the music will live forever.