Outspoken rhythm-and-blues singer Ruth Brown, who notched numerous hits for Atlantic from 1949 to 1960 and later appeared on numerous TV and radio shows and films, died in the Las Vegas area on Friday night of complications from a stroke and heart attack. She was 78.
Born Ruth Weston on Jan. 12, 1928 in Portsmouth, Va., Brown spent her youth singing in a church choir, but quickly fell under the spell of jazz chanteuses Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday; aiming for an entertainment career, she left home in 1945 with trumpeter Jimmy Brown, whom she soon married. After a brief stint with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra in 1947, Brown began performing at Crystal Caverns nightclub under the management of Cab Calloway’s sister Blanche. Willis Conover, the Voice of America disc jockey, saw her there and recommended to Ahmet Ertegun that he sign her to his then-fledgling Atlantic label.