Dusty Springfield (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien on 16 April 1939 – died 2 March 1999) was a British pop singer. Of the female artists of the British Invasion, Springfield made the biggest impression on the U.S. market. From 1963 to 1970, she scored 18 singles in the Billboard Hot 100. She was voted the Top British Female Artist by readers of New Musical Express in 1964, 1965, and 1968. Springfield is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame. She was named among the 25 female rock artists of all time by readers of Mojo magazine (1999), editors of Q magazine (2002), and a panel of artists on the TV channel VH1 (2007).
Dusty was born in West Hampstead, England to an Irish family and was raised in the West London borough of Ealing. The name "Dusty" was given to her when she was a child, as she had been a tomboy in her early years. Dusty was brought up listening to a wide range of music, including George Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller. She was a fan of American Jazz and the music of Peggy Lee, with a desire to sound like her. Her tax consultant father used to tap out rhythms on the back of her hand, encouraging young Dusty to guess the musical piece. At age 11, Dusty went into a local record shop in Ealing and made her first record, the Irving Berlin song "When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam".
After finishing school in 1958, Dusty responded to the advertisement to join an "established sister act" Lana Sisters. With the vocal group, she developed the art of harmonising, learned microphone technique, recorded, did some television and played live in the U.K. and at American Air Bases.
In 1960 she left the band and formed a pop-folk trio with her brother Dion O'Brien and Reshad Feild (who was later replaced by Mike Hurst). The new trio changed their names to Dusty, Tom, and Tim Springfield and chose The Springfields as their name during a rehearsal in a field in Somerset in spring. Intending to make an authentic American album, the Springfields travelled to Nashville to record the album Folk Songs from the Hills. The American pop tunes she heard during her stay helped to turn Springfield's career from the folk and country sounds of the Springfields towards pop music rooted in rhythm and blues. In the spring of 1963, the Springfields recorded their last U.K. Top 5 hit, "Say I Won't Be There", before disbanding. They played their last concert in October 1963.
Dusty Springfield's first single, the soul-tinged "I Only Want to Be with You", was released in November 1963. The song, Springfield's first flirtation with American soul, was arranged by Ivor Raymonde and paid homage to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production style. The single rose to #4 in the British charts and #12 on Billboard Hot 100. The song was actually a "sure shot" pick on influential New York pop music station WMCA in December 1963, even before the station started playing the Beatles. The release eventually charted into the top 10 on WMCA's weekly top 25 countdown survey. It was #48 of the year 1964 of the Musicradio WABC Top. The song was also the first record played on the BBC's Top of the Pops.
Her debut album A Girl Called Dusty included mostly covers of her favorite songs by other performers. Among the tracks were "Mama Said", "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes", "You Don't Own Me", and "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa". The album reached #6 in the U.K. in May 1964. The chart hits "Stay Awhile", "All Cried Out", and "Losing You" followed the same year. In 1964, Springfield recorded two Burt Bacharach songs: "Wishin' and Hopin'", a U.S. Top 10 hit, and "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself", which reached U.K. #3.
Springfield's tour of South Africa was interrupted in December 1964, after she performed before an integrated audience at a theater near Cape Town. Her flouting of government segregation policy resulted in her deportation from the country. The same year, she was voted Top Female British Artist in the New Musical Express poll of the year, beating Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. Springfield received the award again the following year.
In 1965 Springfield took part in the Italian Song Festival in Sanremo, failing to qualify to the final with two songs. In the competition, she heard the song "Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)". The English version of the song, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me", featured lyrics written by Springfield's friend and future manager, Vicki Wickham, and Simon Napier-Bell. It reached U.K. #1 and U.S. #4 on the weekly Billboard Hot 100, and was #35 on the Billboard Top for 1966. The song, which Springfield called "good old schmaltz", was voted among the All Time Top 100 Songs by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 in 1999.
In 1965, she released three more U.K. Top 40 hits: "Your Hurtin' Kinda Love", "In the Middle of Nowhere" and Carole King's "Some of Your Lovin'". These were not included on the album Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty, featuring songs by Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, Rod Argent, and Randy Newman, and a cover of the traditional Mexican song, "La Bamba". The LP peaked at #6 in the U.K.
Because of her enthusiasm for Motown music, Springfield campaigned to get the little known American soul singers a better audience in the UK. She hosted The Sound Of Motown, a Ready Steady Go! special edition, on April 28, 1965. The show was broadcast by Rediffusion TV from their Wembley Studios. Springfield opened the two parts of the show, performing "Wishin' and Hopin'" and "Can't Hear You No More", accompanied by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Motown's in-house band The Funk Brothers. Other guests included The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder. In 1994, guests of the 1965 show credited Dusty's championing of their music for popularizing American soul music in the U.K. in the documentary, Dusty Springfield. Full Circle. Springfield released three additional U.K. Top 20 hits in 1966: "Little By Little", Carole King's "Going Back" and "All I See Is You". In fall 1966, she hosted Dusty, a series of 6 BBC TV music and talk shows. A compilation of her singles, Golden Hits, released in November 1966, reached #2 in the U.K.
The Bacharach-David composition "The Look of Love" was designed as a centerpiece for the spoof Bond movie Casino Royale. For one of the slowest-tempo hits of the sixties, Bacharach created the sultry by minor-seventh and major-seventh chord changes, while Hal David's lyrics epitomized longing and lust. The track was recorded in two versions at the Philips Studios of London. The soundtrack version was recorded on January, 29, and the single release version on April 14. The song is featured in the scene of Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd persuading Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble, seen through a man-size aquarium. "The Look of Love" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song of 1967. The song was a Top 10 radio hit at the KGB and KHJ radio stations. As in 1967 Dusty had trouble with charting hits in the United States, the song earned her highest place in the year's charts, #22.
By the end of 1967, Dusty was becoming disillusioned with the show-business carousel on which she found herself trapped. She appeared out of step with the Summer of Love and its attendant psychedelic music. The second season of the BBC Dusty TV shows, featuring performances of "Get Ready" and "I'll Try Anything", attracted a healthy audience, but was anathema to the sudden changes in pop music. The comparatively progressive and prophetically titled Where Am I Going? attempted to redress this. Containing a jazzy, orchestrated version of "Sunny", and Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away", it was an artistic success, but flopped commercially. In 1968 a similar fate awaited Dusty… Definitely. On this her choice of material ranged from the rolling "Ain't No Sunshine" to the aching emotion of "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today". In the same year Dusty had a U.K. Top 5 hit "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten". Her personal TV shows continued with the ITV series of It Must Be Dusty, including a duet with Jimi Hendrix on the song "Mockingbird". In the same year, Roger Moore presented her third Top British Female Artist award, voted by the readers of New Musical Express.
In 1968, Carole King, one of Springfield's songwriters, embarked on a singing career of her own, while the chart-busting Bacharach-David partnership was foundering. Springfield's status in the music industry was further complicated by the progressive music revolution and the uncomfortable split between what was underground and fashionable, and what was pop and unfashionable. In addition, her performing career was becoming bogged down on the U.K. touring circuit, which at that time largely consisted of working men's clubs and the hotel and cabaret circuit. Hoping to reinvigorate her career and boost her credibility, Springfield signed with Atlantic Records, home label of an idol of hers, Aretha Franklin. The Memphis sessions at the American Sound Studios were recorded by the A team of Atlantic Records: producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, the back-up vocal band Sweet Inspirations and the instrumental band Memphis Cats, led by guitarist Reggie Young and bass player Tommy Cogbill. The producers were the first to recognize that Springfield's natural soul voice should be placed at the fore, rather than competing with full string arrangements. Due to Springfield's pursuit of perfection and what Jerry Wexler called, a 'gigantic inferiority complex', her vocals were recorded later in New York.
The LP Dusty in Memphis received a positive review from Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone magazine saying:"…most of the songs…have a great deal of depth while presenting extremely direct and simple statements about love….Dusty sings around her material, creating music that's evocative rather than overwhelming… Dusty is not searching—she just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it." The LP fell short of the U.K. Top 15 and peaked at #99 on the Billboard Top 200, selling a dissappointing 100,000 copies in the U.S. However in 1970, the album earned Springfield a nomination for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. In 2001, Dusty in Memphis received the Grammy Hall of Fame award. The album was listed among the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone and VH1 artists, New Musical Express readers, and Channel 4 viewers polls. The standout track of the album, "Son of a Preacher Man", reached #10 on the U.K., U.S. and international charts. Its continental success peaked at #10 on the Austrian charts and at #3 on the Swiss charts. The song was the 96th most popular song of 1969 in the United States.
In September and October 1969, Dusty Springfield hosted eight episodes of the BBC TV show Decidedly Dusty. In 1970, Springfield released her second album for Atlantic Records, A Brand New Me, featuring songs written and produced by Gamble and Huff. The album yielded a Billboard Top 25 single, "A Brand New Me". In 2007, its British counterpart, From Dusty With Love was listed among the 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die by the Guardian newspaper. A third album for the Atlantic label, titled Faithful and produced by Jeff Barry, was abandoned because of poor sales of singles slated for the LP. Most of the material recorded for the aborted album was released on the 1999 reissue of Dusty in Memphis on Rhino Records. Her next album, See All Her Faces, was released only in Britain, having none of the cohesion of her previous two albums. In 1972, Springfield signed a contract with ABC Dunhill Records, and the resulting album, Cameo, was released in 1973 with little publicity.
In 1974, Springfield recorded the theme song for the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. Her second ABC Dunhill album was given the working title Elements and scheduled for release as Longing. The sessions were soon abandoned. A part of the material, including tentative and incomplete vocals, was released on the 2001 compilation Beautiful Soul. She put her career on hold in 1974, living reclusively in the United States to avoid scrutiny by British tabloids. During this time she provided background vocals for Anne Murray's LP Together and Elton John's LP Caribou, including the single "The Bitch is Back". Springfield released two albums on United Artists Records in the late '70s. The first was 1978's It Begins Again, produced by Roy Thomas Baker. The LP charted on both sides of the Atlantic and was well received by critics, but was not a commercial success. The 1979 album Living Without Your Love did slightly better. In London, she recorded two singles with David Mackay for her British label, Mercury Records. The first was the disco-influenced "Baby Blue", which reached #61 in Britain. The second, "Your Love Still Brings Me to My Knees", was Springfield's final single for Philips Records. In autumn 1979, Springfield played club dates in New York. On 3 December 1979, she performed a charity concert for a full house at the Royal Albert Hall, in the presence of Princess Margaret. She signed a U.S. deal with 20th Century Records, which resulted in the single "It Goes Like It Goes". Springfield was uncharacteristically proud of her 1982 album White Heat, influenced by the New Wave genre. She tried to revive her career again in 1985 by returning to the United Kingdom and signing to Peter Stringfellow's Hippodrome Records label. This resulted in the single "Sometimes Like Butterflies" and an appearance on Stringfellow's live television show. None of Dusty Springfield's recordings from 1971 to 1986 charted on the U.K. or U.S. Top 40.
In 1987, she accepted an invitation from the Pet Shop Boys to sing with the duo's Neil Tennant on their single "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" and appear on the promotional video. The record rose to #2 on both the U.K. and U.S. charts. The song subsequently appeared on the Pet Shop Boys' album Actually, and both of their greatest hits collections. Springfield sang lead vocals on the Richard Carpenter track "Something in Your Eyes", recorded for Carpenter's album Time. Released as a single, it became a #12 Adult Contemporary hit in the United States. Springfield recorded a duet with B.J. Thomas, "As Long as We Got Each Other", which was used as the theme song for the U.S. sitcom Growing Pains.
A new compilation of Springfield's greatest hits, The Silver Collection, was issued in 1988. Springfield returned to the studio with the Pet Shop Boys, who produced her recording of their song "Nothing Has Been Proved", commissioned for the soundtrack of the film Scandal. Released as a single in early 1989, the song gave Springfield a U.K. Top 20 hit. So did its follow-up, the upbeat "In Private", written and produced by the Pet Shop Boys. She capitalised on this by recording the 1990 album Reputation, another U.K. Top 20 success. The writing and production credits for half the album, which included the two recent hit singles, went to the Pet Shop Boys, while the album's other producers included Dan Hartman. Before recording the Reputation album, Springfield decided to leave California for good, and by 1988, she had returned to Britain. In 1993, she was invited to record a duet with her former 1960s professional rival and friend, Cilla Black. The song, "Heart and Soul", was released as a single and also appeared on Black's Through the Years album. In 1994, Springfield started recording the album A Very Fine Love for Sony Records. Some of the songs were written by well-known Nashville songwriters and produced with a typical country feel.
While recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in January 1994 in Nashville, Springfield felt unwell. Upon returning to England a few months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and, for a time, the cancer was in remission. In 1995, in apparent good health again, Springfield set about promoting the album and gave a live performance of "Where Is a Woman to Go?" on the BBC television music show Later With Jools Holland, backed by Alison Moyet and Sinéad O'Connor. The last song Springfield recorded was the George and Ira Gershwin standard "Someone To Watch Over Me". The song was recorded in London in 1995 for an insurance company television advertisement. It was included on Simply Dusty (2000), the extensive anthology the singer had helped plan but did not live to see released. Cancer was detected again in the summer of 1996. After a fight, she was defeated by the illness in 1999. She died in Henley-on-Thames on the day she had been due to go to Buckingham Palace to receive her Order of the British Empire insignia. Before her death, officials of St James's Palace gave permission for the medal to be collected by Springfield's manager, Vicki Wickham. She duly presented it to the singer in hospital, where they had been joined by a small party of friends and relatives. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had been scheduled for 10 days after her death. Elton John helped induct Springfield into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, stating: "I think she is the greatest white singer that there ever has been."
The singer's funeral service was attended by hundreds of fans and people from the music business, including Elvis Costello, Lulu, and the Pet Shop Boys. It took place in Oxfordshire, at the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin, in Henley-on-Thames, where Springfield had lived during her last years. A marker dedicated to her memory was placed in the church graveyard. Some of Springfield's ashes were buried at Henley, while the rest were scattered by her brother, Tom Springfield, at the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland. In what was considered a very rare departure from royal protocol, Queen Elizabeth said she was 'saddened' to learn of Springfield's death.
Dusty Springfield's will provided care for her cat, Nicholas, including a marriage to the five-year-old female cat of a friend in a private ceremony later that spring.