Dinah Washington inspires singer on upcoming album
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I’m talking to Deborah Cox, but we’re not talking about Deborah Cox. We’re talking about Dinah Washington.
Nevertheless, the topic hits the mark — Cox’s latest disc Destination Moon is a 13-song big band jazz collection of covers by the buxom “Queen of the Blues.” Washington, famed for living as large as she sang, was reputed to have worn a mink in all weather while carrying two .45 caliber pistols. She married seven times and died in 1963 of a drug overdose. She was 39. But for all the potent persona, Cox says Washington’s allure simply started with a voice.
“I remember hearing Dinah and going ‘Wow,’” the Toronto-born, platinum-selling R&B singer says. “It kind of sparked something that was a little different from everybody else that I’d heard.”
Cox was eight years old at the time. And although, through her parents, she’d already been exposed to all the jazz greats, Washington stood out for her ability not to be nailed in.
“She was every genre,” Cox says. “She wasn’t big band, she wasn’t jazz, she wasn’t blues — she was all of it. She’d just add her own thing and I really admired that because all the other greats were known to sing just jazz. She was really an extension of all of it.”
It was later in life, Cox says, that she became attracted to the idea of the woman behind the singer.
“She was really a woman who demanded respect,” she says. “Fearless and feared at the same time.”
For her interpretation of Washington’s works, Cox listened to her music intensely while selecting songs but shortly before heading to the studio, she muted the mid-century songstress. Cox, after all, wasn’t interested in simply emulating a classic, but bringing her own influence to the mix. When asked about some of Washington’s more colourful lines — “Well I got high last night and took my man to his wife’s front door” — Cox starts laughing.
“That is one of my favourites,” she admits. “And I’m too shy to sing some of the other stuff she does. She has this one song called Big, Long Slidin’ Thing. She’s really provocative and I’m just really shy,” Cox adds, laughing again, “I thought, I don’t know if I’m going to sing that one.”
For the record, Washington’s Big Long Slidin’ Thing isn’t as racy as it sounds. “She’s talking about a trombone player,” Cox insists.
Sure she was.