R&B Great Ruth Brown Dies at Age 78

Grammy award-winning R&B singer Ruth Brown, whose 1950s hits including “Teardrops From My Eyes” and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” helped establish both the rhythm-and-blues form and Atlantic Records as the genre’s preeminent label, died Friday in a Las Vegas area hospital from complications after a heart attack and stroke earlier in the week said Lindajo Loftus, a publicist for the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. She was 78. “Ruth was one of the most important and beloved figures in modern music,” singer Bonnie Raitt said in a statement. “You can hear her influence in everyone from Little Richard to Etta (James), Aretha (Franklin), Janis (Joplin) and divas like Christina Aguilera today.” “She was my dear friend, and I will miss her terribly,” Raitt said. Brown’s soulful voice produced dozens of hits for Atlantic Records, cementing the fledgling record label’s reputation as an R&B powerhouse. Trained in a church choir in her hometown of Portsmouth, Va., Brown sang a range of style from jazz to gospel-blues. Brown was an influential figure on both the R&B and rock ‘n’ roll scenes in the 1950s, and revived her career in the 1970s and 1980s through musical theatre and film. After landing a role in 1988 cult movie “Hairspray,” she won a Tony Award for her role in Broadway revue “Black and Blue” in 1989, and was presented with a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance on the album “Blues on Broadway” the same year. In her later years she was a vocal fighter for the rights of older R&B musicians, and in 1987 helped to establish the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, which provides medical and financial support for older artists, as well as helping to preserve the R&B genre.

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