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Springfield, Dusty (16 April 1939-12 March 1999)

Vocalist from West Hampstead, England, who cut her first record when she was only eleven years old, in an Ealing record store. It was “When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam” by Irving Berlin and was a portent of things to come from the eclectic young singer with a penchant for American music. In the ’50s, she performed anywhere and everywhere she could, regaling her audiences with a mix of folk and Latin music. Then she decided to answer an ad which asked for a female vocalist to round out a trio that would be known as The Lana Sisters. The group appeared on television fare such as Drumbeat and Six Five Special and played U.K. and U.S. air bases and recorded a novelty record entitled ‘Seven Little Girls Sitting on a Back Seat’.

She stayed with them for about two years until her brother asked her to join a new band he was starting with his friend, and they dubbed themselves The Springfields. They became the biggest selling group in Great Britain in 1961 and managed to beat The Beatles to the punch in the States when they scored a hit with “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”. By the time “Say I Won’t Be There” reached the top five on the U.K. chart in 1963, they had just about had enough. They performed their final concert on 11th October 1963, in London, England.

Dusty decided to try to make it as a solo artist. It did not take long. On 21st November 1963, “I Only Want to Be with You” debuted on the U.K. chart, beginning its trek to #4. In early 1964, it did the same in the States, and was at #12 by Valentine’s Day. It also has the distinction of being the first song played on the British television program, Top of the Pops. More hits followed: “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”, “Stay Awhile” and “Wishin’ and Hopin'” all charted in the British Isles and the latter was a top-ten hit in the U.S. To cap off a banner year, readers of New Musical Express voted for her as the Top British Female Artist, the first of three such accolades she would receive from the magazine.

Trouble came calling in the form of an ill-fated political stance in South Africa when Dusty spoke out against apartheid and was unceremoniously dispatched from the country. It was one of the earliest attempts by a recording artist to try to influence the political dialogue in the volatile region, although Dusty was not an overtly political artist. Integration, it turned out, would have to start in music before it would translate into any kind of political reality.

Dusty was enamoured of the Motor City sound and did her best to import it to the U.K. inspiring a special airing of Ready Steady Go! entitled “The Sound of Motown”. Serving as host, Dusty introduced acts such as The Miracles, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder to an ever-curious British music audience. The ever-curious Dusty entertained at Sanremo’s Italian Song Festival in 1965 and didn’t make it to the final round, but came away with something much more valuable: The melody of “Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)” captured her imagination and she desperately wished to record an English version, which was penned by her friend, Victoria Wickham. “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” shot to #1 in the U.K. and #4 in the U.S., her highest charting in the States, in 1966. She padded this success with three more top-twenty hits in the U.K.: “All I See is You”, “Goin’ Back”, and “Little by Little”.

In 1967, she sang “The Look of Love” on the soundtrack of Casino Royale, and it went to #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. “I’ll Try Anything” managed #13 in the U.K. Its follow-up, “I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten”, went to #4.

Dusty changed labels in the States, moving to Atlantic Records, while Philips commandeered her recordings throughout the rest of the world. The result was Dusty in Memphis, a critically acclaimed commercial flop that produced one big hit, “Son of a Preacher Man”. It went to the top ten in Austria, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. Dusty’s musical journey then took her to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she recorded A Brand New Me and saw its title track climb into the top forty in America and Great Britain.

See All Her Faces was only released in the U.K., and Dusty label-hopped again to ABC Dunhill, although they wasted little effort publicizing 1973’s Cameo. In 1974, Dusty was plucked to record the theme tune for the television program, The Six Million Dollar Man. She sang backup on Elton John’s Caribou and the Anne Murray album, Together.

After a hiatus, she returned to the studios to record her next solo effort, It Begins Again, which barely missed the top forty in the U.K. She supported it with a British tour, but many of the dates had to be cancelled because of dismal ticket sales. The London dates, however, were a smashing success. In 1979, Dusty released Living without Your Love and recorded a pair of singles on the Mercury label. “Baby Blue” charted at #61 in Great Britain. She ended the year on a high note, playing a charity performance on 3rd December at Royal Albert Hall which was attended by Princess Margaret.

It was a tough time for Dusty, who lost both parents in the span of three years and had a hard time fitting in in California. She turned to drugs and alcohol for solace, got involved in bad relationships, and even resorted to cutting herself. All of this resulted in irregular stays at psychiatric facilities. In the middle of all this madness, she managed to complete another album, White Heat, which embraced the new wave of British music. Dusty, who was her own worst critic, was unusually chuffed with the album. In 1983, her dangerous lifestyle led to a stay at USC Medical Centre in L.A. County. Things went from worse to bad in 1985 when she inked an ill-fated deal with Hippodrome Records and watched “Sometimes Like Butterflies” flutter to #82 on the British chart.

In 1987, her friend and manager, Vicki Wickham, got the wild-haired idea that Dusty should duet with The Pet Shop Boys. The collaboration worked surprisingly well, producing a #2 hit on both sides of the Atlantic called “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” Its follow-ups, “In Private” and “Nothing Has Been Proved”, both reached the top twenty in the U.K. In 1988, Dusty moved back home to Great Britain and embarked on the next phase of her career. She employed the Pet Shop Boys to do co-production duties on her next solo album, Reputation, which peaked at #18 on the British album chart in 1990. It outsold every album she had released since the 1960s, excepting a greatest-hits package.

Curiously, her agreement with EMI was allowed to elapse, and Dusty found herself without a contract, which was no skin off her nose, until Columbia Records came calling. Her next album, A Very Fine Love, was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. In the midst of the recording, however, Dusty experienced chest pains and upon returning to the U.K., it was revealed that she had breast cancer. Radiation therapy managed to put the cancer into remission, and by 1995, Dusty had a new lease on life. She set about promoting her new album, appearing on Later with Jools Holland, where her backup singers comprised Alison Moyet and Sinead O’Connor. Then she did a cover of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch over Me” that was used on radio and TV ads for Private Patients Plan Healthcare. It turned out to be her last recording.

In 1996, her cancer returned. This time, they said, it was terminal. Undaunted, Dusty employed a holistic doctor and relocated to Henley-on-Thames to undergo a series of chemotherapy treatments. The treatments didn’t work. Once word spread that Dusty was gravely ill, the Rock and Roll of Hall of Fame and the Queen hastily tried to bestow a couple of awards on her before she died. She received the Order of the British Empire in March 1999, although she was too ill to pick up the award herself, and the ever-loyal Vicki Wickham was graciously allowed to accept it for her and give it to her in hospital. Dusty would not live to see herself enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however. She was inducted about two weeks after her death. In 2006, the U.K. Music Hall of Fame did the same.

Dusty is still a favourite on top-25 “all time” lists such as reader polls conducted by Mojo and Q magazines and her fellow artists on such tributes as are held on VH1. In December 2007, a Dusty Springfield tribute concert took place in Malmo, Sweden, and featured artists such as Niklas Frisk, Helena Josefsson, Moto Boy, Nina Persson, Per Sunding, and Titiyo. The concert happened to coincide with Tina Arena’s release of several Dusty standards such as “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” on Songs of Love & Loss.

Dusty Springfield recordings
I Only Want to Be with You (Mike Hawker/Ivor Raymonde)
Wishin’ and Hopin’ (Burt Bacharach/Hal David)