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  • Kirk Lightsey

Detroit moments: DINAH WASHINGTON

I have a vivid memory of hearing Dinah Washington when I was about six at the Paradise Theater. I can’t remember who was in her band. But I do remember her. When suddenly the lights went out and the auditorium went completely black I was stunned.

Soon a tiny spotlight came on to the corner of the left stage curtain and after a pregnant moment, there appeared the face of Dinah Washington, just her face in that tiny spotlight. The entire audience was mesmerized but I felt petrified and amazed at the same time. The moment her face appeared she started to sing “What a Difference a Day Made.” Once she began to sing –alone- and got into it, the spotlight broadened until the band joined her. Talk about someone who could take the whole stage! She filled the entire room and had perfect pitch. The band assembled on stage and would wait behind a curtain and at a certain point they would become visible. Sometimes Dinah would sit on the edge of the stage and sing to the front row. That was thrilling. But we weren’t in the front row. I don't remember ever being in the front row. I never wanted to be there because you had to strain to see over the lip of the stage, probably because I was too short. She was one of the great performers of her time and definitely one of my favorites.

Quite few years later, when I was playing at the Frolic Show Bar with the Beans Bowles Band (Joe Henderson, Clarence Cheryl and Jimmy Duncan), suddenly she came and sat right under the piano. I said, "Shit, it's Dinah Washington!" When I came down the stage she said, “Boy, how come you play so good?" Thrilled, all I could say was, “Thank you Ms. Washington.”

Her show at the Frolic Show Bar for the next two weeks closed down the club. The management could not pay her and that’s how I lost my gig.

My Grandmother would have called her a hussy, which meant to her a fancy woman who spoke her mind. And that she was, even though she wasn’t a foul mouth like Della Reese. I heard this anecdote of one Dinah gig when was playing with Jimmy Cobb, her man at the time, and as she was singing, she began picking up each item of his drum kit which she had bought and threw them aside, not missing a beat, until Jimmy sat alone with his stool and drum sticks.

I remember my Mother listening to this great album

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Redinho da Flauta
Redinho da Flauta
Jun 28, 2020

There`s a really great great 4 part BBC documentary series on Dinah Washington up on YouTube that I highly recommend. Starts here:

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