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The Queen of Rhythm and Blues: Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown's eleven-year ordeal to recoup her share of royalties from Atlantic Records led to the formation of the nonprofit Rhythm & Blues Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping others in the same frustrating situation.

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the late Ruth Brown, the original queen of rhythm and blues.

Brown’s career took her from the Apollo theatre to Broadway. She was the most prolific African American female R&B vocalist of the '50's, surpassing Dinah Washington for a time.

Born Ruth Weston on January 30, 1928, in Portsmouth, Virginia, she was brought up to sing spirituals in her father's church choir. As she grew up she began to admire Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. During World War II, as a teenager, she sang at various soldiers' clubs in Virginia. In 1946, she began her professional singing career adopting the name Ruth Brown.

Brown was the first rhythm and blues singer whose hits in the 1950's made Atlantic Records ‘the house that Ruth built.’ Later in life, she revived her career as the Tony Award-winning star of the musical revue ‘Black and Blue.’

Brown hosted the Harlem Hit Parade series on National Public Radio and in 1989 she received her first Grammy Award for the album 'Blues On Broadway.' Also, she fought to recover royalties from her early Atlantic recordings and was eventually awarded two million dollars, which allowed her to establish the nonprofit Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

Ruth Brown died on November 17, 2006. She was 78.

John L. Hanson is the producer and host of the nationally syndicated radio series In Black America. It’s heard on home station KUT at 10 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30 a.m. Sundays — and weekly on close to 20 stations across the country. The weekly podcast of IBA, the only nationally broadcast Black-oriented public affairs radio program, is one of KUT’s most popular podcasts.