Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien OBE (16 April 1939 – 2 March 1999), known professionally as Dusty Springfield was a British pop singer whose career extended from the late 1950s to the 1990s. With her distinctive sensual sound, she was an important blue-eyed soul singer, and at her peak was one of the most successful British female performers, with six top 20 singles on the United States Billboard Hot 100 and sixteen on the United Kingdom Singles Chart from 1963 to 1989. She is a member of both the US Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame. International polls have named Springfield among the best female rock artists of all time. Her image, supported by a peroxide blonde beehive hairstyle, evening gowns, and heavy make-up, made her an icon of the Swinging Sixties.
Born in West London to an Irish Catholic family that enjoyed music, Springfield learned to sing at home. In 1958 she joined her first professional group, The Lana Sisters, and two years later formed a pop-folk vocal trio, The Springfields, with her brother Tom. Her solo career began in 1963 with the upbeat pop hit, "I Only Want to Be with You". Among the hits that followed were "Wishin' and Hopin'" (1964), "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" (1964), "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (1966), and "Son of a Preacher Man" (1968). A fan of US pop music, in 1965, she brought little-known soul singers to a wider UK audience, by hosting the first national TV performance of many top-selling Motown artists. By 1966, she was the best-selling female singer in the world, and topped a number of popularity polls, including Melody Maker's Best International Vocalist. She was the first UK singer to top the New Musical Express readers' poll for Female Singer.
To boost her credibility as a soul artist, Springfield went to Memphis, Tennessee, to record Dusty in Memphis, an album of pop and soul music, with the Atlantic Records main production team. Released in 1969, it has been ranked among the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone and in polls by VH1 artists, New Musical Express readers, and Channel 4 viewers. The album was also awarded a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. After the release of Dusty in Memphis, Springfield experienced a career slump for eighteen years. She returned to the Top 20 of the UK and US charts in collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys on "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (1987), and had UK hits with "Nothing Has Been Proved" and "In Private" (both 1989). Interest in Springfield's early output was revived in 1994 due to the inclusion of "Son of a Preacher Man" on the soundtrack of the feature film, Pulp Fiction. In mid-1994 Springfield was diagnosed with breast cancer; she died of the disease on 2 March 1999, aged 59.
Early life (1939–1957)
Dusty Springfield was born as Mary O'Brien in West Hampstead, North London, England, on 16 April 1939,[ the second child of Gerard Anthony O'Brien (c. 1905–1979), called "OB", and Catherine (Ryle) O'Brien (c. 1900–1976), called "Kay". Her older brother, Dionysius P. A. O'Brien (born 2 July 1934), was later known as Tom Springfield. Gerard, who had been raised in the British Raj, worked as a tax accountant and consultant. Catherine came from a family in County Kerry, Ireland, which included a number of journalists.
Springfield was raised in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, until the early 1950s and later lived in the West London borough of Ealing. She attended St Anne's Convent School, Northfields – a traditional all-girl Catholic school. The comfortable middle class upbringing was disturbed by dysfunctional tendencies in the family; her father's perfectionism, and her mother's frustrations would sometimes result in food-throwing incidents. Springfield and Tom were both prone to food-throwing as adults. She was given the nickname "Dusty" due to playing football with boys in the street and was described as a tomboy.
Springfield was raised in a music-loving family. Her father would tap out rhythms on the back of her hand and encourage her to guess the musical piece. She listened to a wide range of music including George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Glenn Miller. A fan of American jazz and the vocalists Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford, she wished to sound like them. At the age of twelve, she made a recording of herself performing the Irving Berlin song "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam" at a local record shop in Ealing
Dusty Springfield was one of the best-selling UK singers of the 1960s. She was voted the Top Female Singer (UK) by the readers of the New Musical Express in 1964 to 1966 and Top Female Singer in 1965 to 1967 and 1969. Of the female singers of the British Invasion, Springfield made one of the biggest impressions on the US market, scoring 18 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1970 including six in the top 20. The music press considers her an iconic figure of the Swinging Sixties. Quentin Tarantino caused a revival of interest in her music in 1994 by including "Son of a Preacher Man" in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, which sold over three million copies. In that same year, in the documentary, Dusty Springfield. Full Circle, guests of her 1965 Sound of Motown show credited Springfield's efforts with popularising US soul music in the UK.
Springfield was popular in Europe and performed at the Sanremo Music Festival. Singles were released in French, German, and Italian. Her French recordings include a 1964 four-track extended play with "Demain tu peux changer" (aka "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"), "Je ne peux pas t’en vouloir" ("Losing You"), "L’été est fini" ("The Summer Is Over") and "Reste encore un instant" ("Stay Awhile"). German recordings include the July 1964 single, "Warten und hoffen" ("Wishin' and Hopin'") backed with "Auf dich nur wart’ ich immerzu" ("I Only Want to Be with You").] Italian recordings include "Tanto so che poi mi passa" ("Every Day I Have to Cry") issued as a single. Her entries at the Sanremo festival were "Tu che ne sai" and "Di fronte all’amore" ("I Will Always Want You").
Dusty Springfield is a cultural icon of the Swinging Sixties where she "was an instantly recognisable celebrity". In public and on stage Springfield developed a joyful image supported by her peroxide blonde beehive hairstyle, evening gowns, and heavy make-up that included her much-copied "panda eye" mascara. Springfield borrowed elements of her look from blonde glamour queens, such as Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, and pasted them together according to her own taste.By the 1990s she had also become a camp icon, with her ultra-glamorous look and this, combined with her emotive vocal performances, won her a powerful and enduring following in the gay community. Besides the prototypical female for drag queens, she was presented in the roles of the 'Great White Lady' of pop and soul and the 'Queen of Mods.
In January 1994 while recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in Nashville, Dusty Springfield felt ill. When she returned to England a few months later, her physicians diagnosed breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and the cancer was in temporary remission. In 1995, in apparent good health, Springfield set about promoting the album. In mid-1996 the cancer had returned and, in spite of vigorous treatments, she died in Henley-on-Thames on 2 March 1999. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, had been scheduled two weeks after her death. Her friend Elton John helped induct her into the Hall of Fame, declaring, "I'm biased but I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been ... Every song she sang, she claimed as her own".
Springfield's funeral service was attended by hundreds of fans and people from the music business, including Elvis Costello, Lulu, and the Pet Shop Boys. It took place in Oxfordshire, at the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin, in Henley-on-Thames, where Springfield had lived during her last years. A marker dedicated to her memory was placed in the church graveyard. Some of Springfield's ashes were buried at Henley, while the rest were scattered by her brother, Tom Springfield, at the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland.
Dusty Springfield in 1966
|Birth name||Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien|
|Also known as||Shan, Gladys Thong|
|Born||16 April 1939|
West Hampstead, London, England
|Origin||Ealing, London, England|
|Died||2 March 1999 (aged 59)|
|Occupations||Singer, arranger, musician, TV presenter|
|Instruments||Voice, guitar, piano, percussion|
|Labels||Philips, Atlantic, Mercury,Phonogram, Parlophone,Columbia, ABC Dunhill, United Artists, 20th Century, Hippodrome|
|Associated acts||Lana Sisters, Springfields,Sweet Inspirations, Pet Shop Boys|