Remembering Ruth Brown, The Queen of R&B



Ruth Brown was known in the 1950s for bringing a bit of pop influence to R&B in a variety of songs for Atlantic Records.


Brown was the oldest of seven siblings, born Ruth Alston Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia. She attended I.C Norcom High School as a young girl, which was legally segregated at the time. Brown grew up in a Christian home, but because her father was the choir director at a local church, she was more interested in singing in nightclubs. Listening to singers like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan inspired her.


Blanche Calloway, a bandleader herself, arranged for Brown to perform at a Washington, D.C. club. Crystal Caverns nightclub and quickly became her manager. Willis Conover, a Voice of America DJ, happened to see Brown perform with Duke Ellington and recommended her to Atlantic Records. Brown was unable to audition as planned due to a car accident that resulted in a 9-month hospital stay. Despite this, she was adamant about pursuing her musical career and later signed with Atlantic Records while still in the hospital.


“Lucky Lips,” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and recorded in 1957, was Brown’s first pop hit. The song peaked at number six on the R&B chart. Atlantic Records became known as “The House That Ruth Built” during this period, as her successful singles breathed new life into the struggling label. “So Long,” “Teardrops from My Eyes,” and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” are among her other hits.


Brown eventually faded from public view to become a housewife and mother. Redd Foxx later encouraged her to return to music, and Brown was still touring at the age of 77. However, she died at the age of 78 as a result of complications from a heart attack and stroke she suffered following surgery.

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