Her high-pitched voice and sharp, clipped phrasing earned her both fans and detractors. It was a piercing sound, instantly recognizable whether she sang blues, jazz or R&B.
Verve, in association with Blue Note, has collected 20 of Washington’s best songs in "The Definitive Dinah Washington." It’s an impressive collection that covers the length and scope of the singer’s career, from 1943 to 1962, from gritty blues to Gershwin.
The songs are offered in chronological order although the exact dates of some recordings are unknown. Showcasing her early work in the blues, the CD kicks off with 1943’s "Evil Gal Blues" and also features "New Blowtop Blues" and the very naughty "Big Long Slidin’ Thing" from 1954.
By the mid-1950s, Washington was singing more jazz numbers and sophisticated ballads. The collection includes her spirited version of George and Ira Gershwin’s "A Foggy Day" as well as a lovely rendition of "Blue Gardenia" by Lester Lee and Bob Russell. There’s also a live recording of "All of Me" from 1958 in Newport, where Washington lends a hand on vibraphone.
From there, she would soon record her big song "What a Diff’rence A Day Made." The sentimental number may have put off jazz purists, but it was a pop hit and gave Washington a wider audience. Like her or not, she didn’t limit herself. The next song is her playful duet with Brook Benton, "Baby You’ve Got What It Takes," a hit on the R&B charts. The bouncy number will likely leave you wanting to hear more of her collaborations with Benton, but there’s just the one. Other notable songs in the collection are "Unforgettable" and "This Bitter Earth," both recorded in 1959, and "Drinking Again" from 1962. A year later, Washington would die from an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol. Yes, 2003 is the 40th anniversary of her death.
A long list of musicians accompany Washington on the songs, but a few of the notables are saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and drummer Max Roach.
While a single-disc collection can’t be the ultimate offering, "The Definitive Dinah Washington" does a mighty good job.