Dusty Springfield! One of the greats!
On this day, March 2, 1999, British singer Dusty Springfield (Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien) died after a long battle against cancer, aged 59. With her distinctive sensual mezzo-soprano 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 US Billboard Hot 100 and sixteen on the UK Singles Chart from 1963 to 1989. She is a member of 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 bouffant hairstyle, evening gowns, and heavy make-up, as well as her flamboyant performances made her an icon of the Swinging Sixties. After being a member of 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). In collaboration with Pet Shop Boys, she returned to the Top 10 of the UK and US charts in 1987 with "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Two years later, she had two other UK hits on her own with "Nothing Has Been Proved" and "In Private." Subsequently, in the mid-1990s, owing to the inclusion of "Son of a Preacher Man" on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, interest in her early output was revived.
Springfield was voted the Top Female British Artist of the year in the New Musical Express poll, topping Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. She received the award again for the next three years. Dusty Springfield recorded the Bacharach-David composition "The Look of Love" for the James Bond parody film Casino Royale. For "one of the slowest-tempo hits" of the sixties, Bacharach created a "sultry" feel by the use of "minor-seventh and major-seventh chord changes", while Hal David's lyrics "epitomized longing and, yes, lust". In 1968 Hoping to reinvigorate her career and boost her credibility, Springfield signed with Atlantic Records, the label of her idol, Aretha Franklin. The Memphis sessions at the American Sound Studio were produced by Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin; with the back-up vocal band Sweet Inspirations; and the instrumental band Memphis Cats. The producers recognised that Springfield's natural soul voice should be placed at the forefront, rather than competing with full string arrangements. The album Dusty in Memphis received excellent reviews on its initial releases both in the UK and US and included the hit "Son Of A Preacher Man". sexy evening gowns
In November during the Memphis sessions Springfield suggested to Wexler (one of the heads of Atlantic Records) that he should sign the newly formed UK band, Led Zeppelin. She knew their bass guitarist, John Paul Jones, from his session work on her earlier albums. Without ever having seen them and partly on her advice, Wexler signed Led Zeppelin to a $200,000 deal with Atlantic, which, at the time, was the biggest contract for a new band.
Some of Springfield's biographers and journalists have speculated that she had two personalities: shy, quiet, Mary O'Brien, and the public face she had created as Dusty Springfield. An editorial review at Publishers Weekly of Valentine and Wickham's 2001 biography, Dancing with Demons, finds "... the confidence [Springfield] exuded on vinyl was a facade masking severe insecurities, addictions to drink and drugs, bouts of self-harm and fear of losing her career if exposed as a lesbian". Simon Bell, one of Springfield's session singers, disputed the twin personality description: "It's very easy to decide there are two people, Mary and Dusty, but they were the one person. Dusty was most definitely Dusty right to the end." In the 1970s and early 1980s, Springfield's alcoholism and drug addiction affected her musical career. She was hospitalised several times for self-harm by cutting herself, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
From mid-1966 to the early 1970s Springfield lived in a domestic partnership with fellow singer Norma Tanega and later enjoyed a relationship with Canadian singer Carole Pope. In 1982 Springfield met an American actress Teda Bracci at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; the pair moved in together in April 1983, and seven months later, they exchanged vows at a wedding ceremony which was not legally recognised under California law. The pair had a "tempestuous" relationship which led to an altercation with both Springfield and Bracci hospitalised; Springfield had been smashed in the mouth by Bracci wielding a saucepan and had teeth knocked out, requiring plastic surgery. The pair had separated within two years.
In the middle of 1994, Springfield was diagnosed with breast cancer. The last studio track Springfield recorded was George and Ira Gershwin's song "Someone to Watch Over Me" – in London in 1995 for an insurance company TV ad. She died in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire on 2 March 1999.