Dakota Staton was a prima donna in the best sense of the term. I’ve worked with a few singers over the years, but there was certainly nobody like Dakota. In the cover photo of A Packet of Love Letters, her last for HighNote, you can see the pride, dignity and, yes, I have to admit, the little bit of vanity that put her in a league of her own.
Etta Jones and I were working a club called the Baby Grand in New York City, and I met Dakota there sometime in the mid-’70s. At that time she was at the peak of her powers but yet, somehow, she was overlooked as a performer. Her The Late, Late Show record-the one that made her a household name in the late ’50s and ’60s-was behind her and, like so many performers of that generation, she seemed to have been eclipsed by some of the younger singers. I brought her to Joe Fields at Muse Records and told Joe, “You just gotta record Dakota!” The Muse/HighNote connection was to be her final alliance with a record label, and I like to think it was one of her happiest and most productive periods.
For me, the unique thing about Dakota was the way she could sing the blues but yet retain that diva-like quality, the uptown-meets-downtown type of thing. Few people could pull that off like Dakota.
She was a wonderful person. Musically astute, politically aware, we had many conversations on a wide variety of subjects and she spoke with authority on all of them. And, man, how she could make me laugh! The world could use a Dakota Staton right now. Someone to bring integrity and class to the music the way she could; someone to raise the art above a commodity into something personal and intimate-something that was passed from heart to heart.