Inductee: Dusty Springfield (vocals; born 4/16/39, died 3/2/99)
One of the finest pop-soul vocalists ever, Dusty Springfield was blessed with a powerful, smoky voice that ran the emotional gamut from cool sophistication to simmering passion. Over the course of a long, episodic career, she tackled adult pop, Memphis R&B and Motown-style soul, traditional folk and country, and contemporary dance music. She’s been called “one of the five mighty pop divas of the Sixties"-the others being Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and Martha Reeves-and no less an authority than Berry Gordy credits her for helping the Motown sound take root in the U.K. Moreover, Springfield forcefully asserted herself as an artist and personality at a time when women were generally not given much leeway in the music industry. In 1964, she became Britain’s most popular female vocalist, and her popularity proved durable, as she enjoyed hits in four successive decades.
Born Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, she took the professional name Dusty Springfield after joining her brother’s band, the Springfields. A folk-oriented trio, they were Britain’s top-selling group in 1961 and enjoyed an American hit in 1962 ("Silver Threads and Golden Needles") 15 months before the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” ignited the British Invasion. Drawn to rhythm & blues, Dusty left the Springfields in 1963 to launch a solo career. What she achieved was nothing less than a reinvention of British soul music. Her approach had little to do with guitar-driven rock and roll. She gravitated toward Motown’s orchestrated pop-soul, albeit filtered through the cool, poised vocal approach that reflected her British background. Smitten by the soulful sounds coming out of Detroit, Springfield actually introduced the British public to Motown’s caravan of stars as the host of a 1965 TV special.
Springfield immediately connected as a solo artist with “I Only Want to Be With You” (1964), which made her the second British act after the Beatles to score a stateside pop hit. She became known as a British interpreter of American songwriters like Randy Newman, Jerry Ragavoy, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Several of her most memorable hits, including “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “The Look of Love,” were written by the latter duo. Her biggest U.S. hit came in 1966 with the heavily orchestrated “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” an Italian song rewritten with English lyrics.
Springfield switched American labels from Phillips to Atlantic in 1968. The move yielded the masterful Dusty in Memphis, which played more to her R&B leanings than any previous album. The Atlantic Records production team of Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd matched the British vocalist with some of the South’s finest session musicians. Springfield tackled a wide range of material by some of her favorite songwriters, including four songs by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The album included such soulful tracks as “Son of a Preacher Man,” which returned Springfield to the Top Ten, and “Breakfast in Bed.” While the album only reached #99, it has grown in stature over the years and was reissued in a deluxe, expanded edition by Rhino in 1999.
In another adventurous move, Atlantic paired Springfield with the rising Philly-soul production-songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff on 1970’s A Brand New Me. Thereafter, the Seventies were generally quiet years for Springfield, who moved from London to Los Angeles and recorded only sporadically. Springfield made a comeback came in 1987 when Britain’s Pet Shop Boys enlisted her to sing on “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” a dance-floor favorite that reached #2 in the U.S. They also produced her 1990 album, Reputation. “Son of a Preacher Man” saw a revival of popularity with its inclusion on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Springfield’s last studio album, A Very Fine Love (1995), returned her to the folk and country genres where she’d begun 35 years earlier with the Springfields. A career-spanning three-CD retrospective, The Dusty Springfield Anthology, was released in 1997.
Springfield died of breast cancer-with which she’d first been diagnosed in 1994-on March 2, 1999, six weeks before her 60th birthday.