Despite Ruth Brown having been born in a household that was dedicated to gospel music, the American singer-songwriter seemed to already be destined to follow her own path as far as personal musical preferences go. This showed in the gigs she performed at nightclubs and charitable organizations that were not always associated with a church-sponsored event. Brown grew up during the era of the Great Depression, born just a year prior to the infamous New York Stock Exchange crash that took place in 1929. For Ruth Brown, she felt she needed more than just gospel music to get through one of America’s most difficult times as a nation. When she was seventeen years old, she ran away from her father’s Virginian home to be with her love interest at the time, Jimmy Brown.
After performing with a few different bands, Ruth Brown was discovered by Blanche and Cab Calloway, this led to an audition that would serve to be the singer’s big breakthrough. However, an automobile accident resulted in a nine-month stay at the hospital to recover from her injuries. Due to circumstances that were beyond her control, Atlantic Records came to the still hospitalized Brown to start up a recording contract. Starting in 1957, through Atlantic Records, the tracks recorded by Ruth Brown were released as albums. Altogether, there are twenty-three albums to Ruth Brown’s credit as a solo artist.
There are also two collaborative albums that feature her and Benny Carter, as well as a collaborative album between her, Thad Jones, and Mel Lewis. In addition to her music, Ruth Brown’s friendship with Redd Foxx also led to comedic acting gigs. She was also an advocate for musician’s rights that brought about the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1988, which rewarded her in 1989 with its first run of the Pioneer Awards. At the age of seventy-eight years old, while still recording and on tour, Ruth Brown experienced a heart attack and a series of strokes that ultimately led to her death on January 22, 2007. The impression Ruth Brown left had her indicted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Top 10 Ruth Brown Songs
#10 – Things About Comin’ My Way
“Things About Comin’ My Way” was the final song Ruth Brown was recording before health complications prevented her from finishing this song as desired. The song was part of the soundtrack belonging to Danny Glover’s musical drama, Honeydripper, that hit the theaters in 2007. The song served as a bittersweet ending to one of the finest R&B artists that ever graced the radio stations.
#9 – Yesterday
Black Is Brown and Brown Is Beautiful was Ruth Brown’s 1969 album release that produced the Grammy-nominated single, “Yesterday.” This song was highly popularized by The Beatles in 1965 and as hard as people who cover the song may try, nobody can match the success level this iconic group has pulled off. As for Ruth Brown’s cover version, there is no intent to match what The Beatles did. This is why the song worked for her so well. She made the R&B version of it her own and gave it a soulful burst in a manner nobody else could pull off.
#8 – 5-10-15 Hours
Blues at its best, the soulful performance by Ruth Brown’s “5-10-15 Hours” became a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart when it was released in 1952 from her debut album, Rock & Roll. The sophistication behind the saxophone solo added an even more dramatic touch to Ruth’s incredibly soulful lyrics.
#7 – Oh What a Dream
Add a bit of gospel, lots of rhythm and soul, and the recipe for “Oh What a Dream” is complete enough to become a number one hit for Ruth Brown in 1954. Her debut album as a solo artist, Rock & Roll, continued to produce hit after hit that seemed to add an exclamation mark of authority that Ruth Brown’s dream of becoming a successful songstress in the music industry was not only realized but surpassed by dominating it, at least in the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs category.
#6 – I Don’t Know
From the album, The Best of Ruth Brown, “I Don’t Know” was released in 1959 as a blues-style song by Ruth Brown. The rhythmic vocals she delivered to the single made one of her best performances. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, I Don’t Know peaked at number five. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it charted at number sixty-four. The doo-wop background vocals, combined with Brown’s powerful rhythmic voice made I Don’t Know a genuine and jazzy slow dancing classic.
#5 – Lucky Lips
From the album, Rock & Roll, “Lucky Lips” earned a number six rank on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and a number-twenty five rank on the US Billboard Hot 100. Although the song was recorded in 1956, it was not released until 1957. Since the release of her original, many artists have covered the song, but it was only the 1963 performance by Cliff Richards that earned the most recognition as it dominated many European charts, and even among the nations of China and South Africa. Lucky Lips was an ideal self-acceptance song that focused more on the quality of a human being rather than physical appearances.
#4 – This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’
In 1958, from the album, Miss Rhythm, “This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin'” became a number seven hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and a number twenty-four hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was the third time one of her songs as a solo artist would appear on the pop charts. Additional artists covered the song afterward, none of them earned the level of recognition for its rhythmic charm like Ruth Brown’s original. Brown’s slow start seemed to suggest the song will be a sad piece, or perhaps a love letter, but the tune quickly changed to a shake and toe-tapping track that’s as swingy as it is fun.
#3 – Teardrops from My Eyes
“Teardrops from My Eyes” was the first of many number one hits from Ruth Brown as it would appear on what is now known as the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It was among much of the material while Brown was with Atlantic Records where they would take her rhythm and blues vocal talent and funk it up. At first, Brown was reluctant with the song as it was a far step away from the type of music she was originally recognized for, which was blues and ballads. However, she softened up and agreed to experiment with the rhythmic sound, which worked in her favor. Upon the release of this song in 1950, as well as her debut album, Rock & Roll, fans and critics dubbed her as Miss Rhythm. Within a matter of months, she was recognized as the queen of R&B.
#2 – (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean
“(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” was recorded and released in 1952 by Ruth Brown and it became the third time she realized a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It was recorded a second time in 1962 and at that time it reached number ninety-nine on the US Billboard Hot 100. When the song was first presented to Ruth Brown by Atlantic Records, she didn’t care for it. She was convinced to perform it anyway and it became a hit. The 1962 version is a sped-up version compared to the original, which was designed to appease the pop-rock audience at that time.
#1 – If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It
From the Blues on Broadway album that was released in 1989, the Grammy Award winner for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female, “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It” served as the main highlight of the album as a single. No, it did not score an appearance on any major music charts, but this song illustrated the power and personality of a world-class talent that won the hearts of fans and critics nationally and internationally. While the narrative of the song starts with the topic of a couch, the sultry seduction of Brown’s lyrics was enough to wonder if she’s talking about a piece of furniture or herself.
Top 10 Ruth Brown Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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