Anointed "Queen of the Blues" by Leonard Feather, Dinah Washington made a number of live performances during the height of her career at New York's Birdland, Royal Roost, and Basin Street clubs. These performances, along with a couple of cuts from the soundtrack to the Harlem Variety Review, have been captured by Ted Ono's Baldwin Street Music label. During this period, many of Washington's recordings consistently appeared at the top of the R&B charts, although it wasn't until her breakthrough "What a Difference a Day Makes" that she made it to the pop charts. The first performance on this CD is from 1948 with Dizzy Gillespie & the Orchestra and the last is from 1955 with Wynton Kelly. They reveal how Washington matured in terms of confidence and technique, and this maturation is easy to discern since some of the tunes show up at both the early and later sessions.
Washington is accompanied by some of New York's top jazz musicians of the period. Wynton Kelly, Percy Heath, Dizzy Gillespie, Keter Betts, and others were on the stand with Washington during these live performances. Also on the stand was an announcer (Symphony Sid?) from radio station WJZ, making typically inane comments and asking questions such as "Do you do the "Tennessee Waltz?" Dinah answered, "Yes, but I didn't bring my ukelele." But this patter adds to the authenticity of the proceedings. In addition to her R&B tunes like "Time Out for Tears" and "I Won't Cry Anymore," Washington was putting top pop tunes of the period like "Harbor Lights," "Wheel of Fortune," and "Cold, Cold Heart" in her shows. Whatever the material, Washington sang it with her unparalleled, penetrating, clear diction, in a vocal style that came right from the heart and soul. Although this material has been released before, it was scattered over a number of labels and some songs had still not been transferred to CD. Kudos to Ted Ono for bringing it all together in one place. Highly recommended.