Ruth Brown was an American R&B singer who was notable for bringing a popular style to the rhythm and blues, through a series of hit songs in the 1950s, including “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Teardrops from My Eyes.”
Brown’s father was the director of the local church choir, but she was more interested in singing in USO shows and nightclubs. She ran away from her childhood home of Portsmouth Virginia, with trumpeter Jimmy Brown, whom she married, to sing in bars and clubs. After a brief stint with the Lucky Millinder Orchetra, Blanch Calloway — Cab Calloway’s sister and bandleader– took Ruth under her wing, helping manage her act and setting Ruth up with a regular gig in Washington D.C. She was taken up by Ahmet Ertegün and Herb Abramson at Atlantic Records, and Ertegün convinced her to switch from ballads to an R&B style. At the same time, Ertegün’s arrangements retained her “pop” style, with clean, fresh arrangements and the singing spot on the beat with little of the usual blues singer’s embroidery.
Teardrops from My Eyes, written by Rudy Toombs, was one of her earliest hits that featured her upbeat musical style, and topped the Billboard R&B charts for 11 weeks, earning her the nickname “Miss Rhythm.” A stream of hits followed including “I’ll Wait for You” (1951), “I Know” (1951), “5-10-15 Hours” (1953), “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1953), “Oh What a Dream” (1954), “Mambo Baby” (1954) and “Don’t Deceive Me” (1960).
In her later years, Ruth Brown went on to pursue a bit of acting on television, film and on Broadway, where she won a Tony award for performance in Black and Blue.
“Rockin’ in Rhythm: The Best of Ruth Brown” is a particularly good compilation that features great tunes to rock out your lindy hop as well as some bluesy ballads to get your groove on.