Dusty Springield

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Dusty Springfield
Birth name Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien
Born April 16 1939(1939-04-16) (Hampstead, London, England)
Origin Ealing, London, England
Died March 2 1999 (aged 59) Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England
Genre(s) Traditional pop, blue-eyed soul
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1958—1995
Label(s) Philips Records, Atlantic Records

Dusty Springfield (April 16, 1939 – March 2, 1999) was an English pop singer who, among the female artists of the British Invasion of the early 1960s, made the biggest impression on the U.S. market. Hit songs like "I Only Want to Be with You," "Wishin' and Hopin'," and "Son of a Preacher Man" established Springfield as international star; and the her rendition of the movie theme song "The Look of Love" was nominated for an Academy Award in 1967.

Born as Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, Springfield was a major fan of American soul music, and created a distinctive, female "blue-eyed soul" sound. From 1963 to 1970, Springfield had 18 singles in the Billboard Hot 100. She was voted the Top British Female Artist by readers of New Musical Express in 1964, 1965, and 1968.

Springfield kept recording until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 and died in 1999. She was named among the 25 female rock artists of all time by readers of Mojo magazine (1999), editors of Q magazine (2002), and a panel of artists on the TV channel VH1 (2007). She is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame.

Early years

Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien was born in West Hampstead to an Irish Catholic family, and was brought up in the West London borough of Ealing. The name "Dusty" was given to her when she was a child, as she had been a tomboy in her early years. She was brought up listening to a wide range of music: Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Glenn Miller, among others. She was a fan of American jazz and the music of Peggy Lee, and reported had a desire to sound like her. At eleven years old, she was a fan of Judy Garland.

First bands (1958–63)

After finishing school in 1958, Dusty responded to an advertisement to join an "established sister act," the Lana Sisters. With the vocal group, she developed the art of harmonizing, learned microphone technique, recorded, did some television, and played live both in the UK and at American air bases in Europe.

In 1960, she left the band and formed the pop-folk trio the Springfields with her brother Dion O'Brien (now known as Tom Springfield) and Tim Feild. The new trio chose The Springfields as their name during a rehearsal in a field in Somerset in spring. The group had several hits in the UK, and their version of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" reached the U.S. Top 20.

Intending to make an authentic American album, the Springfields traveled to Nashville to record the album Folk Songs from the Hills. During a stopover in New York City, Dusty , already a fan of black vocal groups such as the Shirelles, heard "Tell Him" by the Exciters and was especially inspired by its sound. She began seriously considering moving in the soul music field. In the spring of 1963, the Springfields recorded their last UK top-five hit, "Say I Won't Be There," before disbanding. They played their last concert in October 1963.


Dusty Springfield's first single, the soul-tinged "I Only Want to Be with You," was released in November 1963. The song, which paid homage to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production style, rose to number four in the British charts and number 12 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Her debut album, A Girl Called Dusty, was rushed through production and included mostly covers of her favorite songs by other performers. The album reached UK number six in May 1964. The modest hits "Stay Awhile," "All Cried Out," and "Losing You" followed the same year.

In 1964, Springfield recorded two Burt Bacharach songs: "Wishin' and Hopin'," a U.S. top-ten hit, and "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself," which reached UK number three. Springfield's tour of South Africa was interrupted in December 1964 after she performed before an integrated audience at a theater near Cape Town and was deported for flouting the country's apartheid laws. The same year, she was voted Top Female British Artist in a New Musical Express poll. She also received the award again the following year.

Inspired by the Italian song "Io Che No Vivo (Senza Te)," Springfield recorded "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," in 1965, featuring lyrics by Simon Napier-Bell and Springfield's friend and future manager, Vicki Wickham. It reached UK number one, and was the number 35 song on the Billboard charts for the year 1966. The song listed among the All Time Top 100 Songs by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 in 1999.

Springfield released three more UK top-40 hits in 1965: "Your Hurtin' Kinda Love," "In the Middle of Nowhere," and Carole King's "Some of Your Lovin'." Her album Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty peaked at UK number six.

Motown sound and Look of Love (1965–67)

Because of her enthusiasm for Motown music, Springfield campaigned to get the little known American soul singers a better audience in the UK. She hosted The Sound Of Motown, a Ready Steady Go! special edition, on April 28, 1965. Springfield performed "Wishin' and Hopin'" and "Can't Hear You No More," accompanied by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Motown's in-house band The Funk Brothers. Other guests included The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.

Springfield released three additional UK Top 20 hits in 1966: "Little By Little," Carole King's "Going Back," and "All I See Is You." A compilation of her singles, Golden Hits, released in November 1966, reached UK number two.

Her song "The Look of Love," was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song of 1967. The Bacharach-David composition was designed for the Bond movie Casino Royale. Although it is one of Springfield's most-remembers numbers, it reached only number 22 on the U.S. charts.

Where Am I Going? and Memphis (1967–69)

By the end of 1967, Dusty was becoming disillusioned with show-business, and—unlike other "British Invasion" acts like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones—appeared out of step with the Summer of Love and its attendant psychedelic music. The second season of the BBC Dusty TV shows, featuring performances of "Get Ready" and "I'll Try Anything," attracted a healthy audience, but put her far afield from the new direction in pop music. The comparatively progressive and prophetically titled Where Am I Going? attempted to redress this. Containing a jazzy, orchestrated version of "Sunny," and Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away," it was an artistic and critical success, but flopped commercially. In 1968, a similar fate awaited Dusty… Definitely.

In the same year, Dusty had a UK top-five hit, "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten." Her personal TV shows continued with the ITV series of It Must Be Dusty, including a duet with Jimi Hendrix on the song "Mockingbird." Also in 1968, Roger Moore presented Springfield with her third Top British Female Artist.

In 1968, songwriter [[Carole King] embarked on a singing career of her own, while the chart-topping, Bacharach-David songwriting partnership was foundering. Springfield continued to remain out of touch with American music trends, and her performing career was becoming bogged down on the UK touring circuit, consisting mainly of working men's clubs, hotels, and cabarets. Hoping to reinvigorate her career and boost her credibility, Springfield signed with Atlantic Records, home label of an idol of hers, Aretha Franklin. Springfield's sessions at the American Sound Studios in Memphis were recorded by the "A team" of Atlantic Records: Producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin; the back-up vocal band Sweet Inspirations; and the instrumental band Memphis Cats, led by guitarist Reggie Young and bass player Tommy Coghill. The producers recognized that Springfield's natural soul voice should be placed at the fore, rather than competing with full string arrangements.

The standout track of the album, "Son of a Preacher Man," reached number ten on the UK, U.S., and international charts. The song was the ninety-sixth most popular song of 1969 in the United States. In 1994, it was revived by Quentin Tarantino on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, which sold over three million copies. Although Dusty in Memphis itself was not a major hit, the album received the Grammy Hall of Fame award in 2001. It was also listed among the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time by a panel of artists from Rolling Stone and VH1, readers of New Musical Express, and viewers of British Channel 4.

Decline and comeback

In September and October 1969, Springfield hosted eight episodes of the BBC TV show Decidedly Dusty, and in 1970, she released her second album for Atlantic Records, A Brand New Me, with the title song becoming a Billboard Top 25 single. A third album for the Atlantic label was abandoned because of poor sales of singles slated for the LP. In 1972, Springfield signed a contract with ABC Dunhill Records, and the resulting album, Cameo, was released in 1973 with little publicity.

In 1974, Springfield recorded the theme song for the TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man. Her second ABC Dunhill album was soon abandoned. She put her career on hold in 1974, living reclusively in the United States to avoid scrutiny by British tabloids. During this time she provided background vocals for Anne Murray's LP Together and Elton John's LP Caribou, including the single "The Bitch is Back."

Springfield released two albums on United Artists Records in the late 1970s. In autumn 1979, Springfield played her first club dates in eight years in New York. On December 3, 1979, she performed a charity concert for a full house at The Royal Albert Hall, in the presence of Princess Margaret. Several more recording efforts followed, but none of Springfield's recordings from 1971 to 1986, charted on the UK or U.S. Top 40.

Comeback (1987–95)

In 1987, Springfield accepted an invitation from the Pet Shop Boys to sing with the duo's Neil Tennant on their single "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" and appear on the promotional video. The record rose to number two on both the UK and U.S. charts. The song subsequently appeared on the Pet Shop Boys' album Actually, and both of their greatest hits collections. Springfield sang lead vocals on the Richard Carpenter track "Something in Your Eyes," recorded for Carpenter's album, Time. Released as a single, it became a number-12 Adult Contemporary hit in the United States. Springfield also recorded a duet with B.J. Thomas, "As Long as We Got Each Other," which was used as the theme song for the U.S. sitcom Growing Pains.

A new compilation of Springfield hits, The Silver Collection, was issued in 1988. She returned to the studio with the Pet Shop Boys, who produced her recording of their song "Nothing Has Been Proved," commissioned for the soundtrack of the film Scandal. Released as a single in early 1989, the song gave Springfield a UK Top 20 hit. So did its follow-up, the upbeat "In Private," written and produced by the Pet Shop Boys. Springfield capitalized on this success by recording the 1990 album Reputation, another UK Top-20 success. Before recording the Reputation album, Springfield decided to leave California for good, and by 1988, she had returned to Britain.

In 1993, she was invited to record a duet with her former 1960s' professional rival and friend, Cilla Black. The song, "Heart and Soul," appeared on Black's Through the Years album. In 1994, Springfield started recording the album A Very Fine Love for Sony Records. Some of the songs were written by well-known Nashville songwriters and produced with a typical country feel. The last song she recorded was the George and Ira Gershwin standard "Someone To Watch Over Me." The song was recorded in London in 1995 for an insurance company television advertisement. It was included on Simply Dusty (2002), the extensive anthology the singer had helped plan but did not live to see released.

Illness and death (1995–99)

While recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in 1995 in Nashville, Springfield felt unwell. In England, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and, for a time, the cancer was in remission. In apparent good health again, Springfield set about promoting the album and gave a live performance of "Where Is a Woman to Go?" on the BBC television music show Later With Jools Holland, backed by Alison Moyet and Sinéad O'Connor. Cancer was detected again in the summer of 1996. After a fight, she was defeated by the illness in 1999. She died in Henley-on-Thames on the day she had been due to go to Buckingham Palace to receive her Order of the British Empire insignia.

Before her death, officials of St James's Palace gave permission for the medal to be collected by Springfield's manager, Vicki Wickham. She duly presented it to the singer in the hospital, where they had been joined by a small party of friends and relatives. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had been scheduled for ten days after her death. In what was considered a very rare departure from royal protocol, Queen Elizabeth said she was "saddened" to learn of Springfield's death.

Springfield's will provided care for her cat, Nicholas, including a marriage to the five-year-old female cat of a friend in a private ceremony later that spring.


All Music Guide has stated that the sultry intimacy and heartbreaking urgency of Springfield's voice transcended image and fashion. Depending on the requirements of the song, she could be pop diva, soul siren, or rock n' roll queen. Influenced by American pop music, she created a distinctive white soul sound. Her soul inclinations resulted in her often performing as the only white singer on all-black bills in the 1960s. Her covers of songs by African-American singers ranged from close copies of the original versions to full reworkings, and she recorded songs that songwriters ordinarily would have offered to black vocalists.

Springfield was one of the best-selling British singers in the 1960s. She was voted the Top British Female Artist by the readers of the New Musical Express in 1964, 1965, and 1968. Of the female singers of the British Invasion of pop music in the sixties, Springfield made the biggest impression on the U.S. market. From 1963 to 1970, she scored 26 singles in either the Billboard Hot 100 or the UK Top 40. She is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame. She was placed among the 25 female rock artists of all time by the readers of Mojo magazine (1999), and a panel of artists by the VH1 TV channel (2007).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Howes, Paul. The Complete Dusty Springfield. Richmond, Eng.: Reynolds & Hearn, 2001. ISBN 978-1903111246.
  • Leeson, Edward. Dusty Springfield: A Life in Music. London: Robson Books, 2001. ISBN 978-1861053435.
  • Valentine, Penny, and Wickham, Vicki. Dancing With Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0312282028.

External links

All links retrieved February 12, 2024.


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