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Born in London to Irish parents, Mary O'Brien would go on to become one of the world's most famous female singers. Read her story.
Mary O’Brien was born on April 16, 1939 in Hampstead, London to Irish parents. As a young girl, Mary would sing with her older brother Dion at holiday camps and at age 12, she recorded the Irving Berlin song ‘When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam’ in her local record shop.
In 1958 Mary briefly became part of cabaret act ‘The Lana Sisters’ and made her first professional recordings with that group. She left to reunite with her brother and another vocalist Tim Field. Folk act ‘The Springfields’ was born with Mary and Dion taking new stage names as Tom and Dusty Springfield.
The Springfields had several UK hits with songs ‘Island of Dreams’ and ‘Say I Won’t Be There’ and even got some attention in America for their song ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’ which reached no.20 in the U.S. charts.
In 1963, The Springields split and Dusty launched her solo career. She had immediate success with the song ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ reaching no.4 in the UK and no.12 in the US. This success was matched over the next few years with hits ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, ‘Wishin’ And Hopin’’, and ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’.
In 1968, Dusty went to Memphis, Tennessee to collaborate with legendary music producer Jerry Wexler, who had also worked with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. They released ‘Dusty In Memphis’, and the song ‘Son Of a Preacher Man’ from the album reached no. 10 in the U.S. charts. Although the album has gone on to be Dusty’s most famous work, it did not make the top 15 in the UK.
1970, Dusty moved to Los Angeles, but battles with drug issues and other personal issues meant the singer failed to match her previous successes. In 1973, she recorded the theme song for the TV show ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and following that she recorded two more albums ‘Begins Again’ and ‘Living Without Your Love’.
In 1987, Dusty teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys on the single ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’, which reached no.2 in the UK and the U.S. This brought her back into the public eye and in 1990, Dusty’s album ‘Reputation’ made the top 20 in the UK.
In 1994, ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ was included in the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s movie ‘Pulp Fiction’, which sold three million copies. Dusty found a whole new generation of fans. In 1995, the singer released her final studio album ‘A Very Fine Love’.
Dusty is a cultural icon of the Swinging Sixties and her trademark look is a peroxide blonde bouffant hairstyle, evening gowns and heavy eyeliner. She was inspired by soul singers like Mavis Staples and is credited with bringing the Motown sound to the UK.
Dusty never married and didn’t have any children. In an interview in 1970, she came out as bisexual saying, "I couldn't stand to be thought of as a big butch lady. But I know that I'm as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy."
In 1995, she was diagnosed with cancer and sadly passed away on March 2, 1999 at 59 years old. Legendary blues-rock pioneer Al Kooper describes Dusty’s legacy: "In many ways Dusty Springfield was equal to Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra in the interpretation of a ballad. There is no one in sight to challenge her at this time."
Since passing away, Dusty has received a number of awards including the Grammy Music Hall Of Fame in 2001 and in 2006 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. There is now a musical of Dusty’s life currently showing in London’s West End.