Singer Ruth Brown was sometimes referred to as the “Queen of R&B.” She was recognized for bringing a style of pop music to R&B in numerous songs she performed under the Atlantic Records label. Some of her hit songs include: “So Long,” Teardrops from My Eyes,” and “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”
Brown was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, and was the oldest of seven siblings. She was attending I.C. Norcom High School, which was segregated at the time. Her father was a dockhand worker who directed the local church choir. However, Ruth’s singing interest was geared more toward USO shows and nightclubs.
In 1945, at the age of 17, Brown decided to run away from home with Jimmy Brown, a trumpeter whom she married, to sing in bars and clubs. By 1948, Brown was performing in Washington, D.C. While performing in a Washington, D.C. nightclub, Brown was noticed by a local disc jockey who connected her to the top executives at Atlantic. They were so impressed that they offered her a contract. However, on her way to sign the contract she was in a bad car accident. She signed with Atlantic Records from her hospital bed after being in a car crash that resulted in her staying in the hospital for nine months.
Brown’s first audition, was in 1949, and she sang “So Long,” which ended up becoming a hit. This was followed by “Teardrops from My Eyes” in 1950. Written by Rudy Toombs, it was the first upbeat major hit for Brown. Recorded for Atlantic Records in New York City in September 1950, and released in October, it was Billboard’s R&B number one for 11 weeks. The hit earned her the nickname “Miss Rhythm” and within a few months Brown became the acknowledged queen of R&B.
Brown quietly faded from the public spotlight during the 1960s to become a housewife and mother. She later returned in 1975 to help Redd Foxx with music in his comedic acting gigs. Brown recorded and sang along with fellow rhythm and blues performer Charles Brown, and toured with Bonnie Raitt in the late 1990s. In 1993, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Brown died in Las Vegas in 2006 after complications from a heart attack and stroke. She was 78 years old.