Who was Dinah Washington? Iconic singer played by Mary J Blige in Respect

13 August 2021, 10:00 | Updated: 13 August 2021, 15:43

Mary J Blige plays singer Dinah Washington in Aretha Franklin biopic Respect
Mary J Blige plays singer Dinah Washington in Aretha Franklin biopic Respect. Picture: Getty/Universal

By Tom Eames

Dinah Washington was one of the most popular singers of her generation, and was dubbed the "Queen of the Blues".

In the new Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, Dinah Washington is played by soul legend Mary J Blige.

Dinah appears as a friend of Aretha's family, who meets Aretha as a child singer before witnessing her grow to become a popular artist in her own right.

  1. Who was Dinah Washington?

    Dinah Washington Performs in 1952
    Dinah Washington Performs in 1952. Picture: Getty

    Dinah Washington was an American singer and pianist, who has been described as "the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s songs".

    Read more: Who were Aretha Franklin's sisters Erma and Carolyn and were they singers too?

    Mainly a jazz singer, she also performed a wide variety of styles including blues, R&B, and pop music.

    She was was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

  2. What were her most famous songs?

    Perhaps her most famous song was her recording of 'What a Diff'rence a Day Makes' in 1959.

    In 1992, her version of 'Mad About the Boy' had a resurgence in popularity after it was used in a Levi's advert.

    Other famous songs by Dinah Washington include:

    • Baby Get Lost
    • Baby (You've Got What it Takes)
    • It Could Happen to You
    • September in the Rain
    • Teach Me Tonight
  3. Did Dinah Washington know Aretha Franklin?

    In Respect, a young Aretha is shown meeting the already-established Dinah Washington at one of her parents' parties.

    Years later when she becomes a popular singer, she attempts to sing a Dinah song in tribute after spotting her in the crowd.

    However, Dinah isn't best pleased at this and storms out before offering Aretha some career advice. It's not known whether this incident actually happened or not.

    Mary J Blige plays singer Dinah Washington in Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, opposite Jennifer Hudson
    Mary J Blige plays singer Dinah Washington in Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, opposite Jennifer Hudson. Picture: Universal

    After Dinah's death, Aretha recorded an album - Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington - in 1964.

    Read more: Who was Jerry Wexler? Record producer who signed Aretha Franklin and played by Marc Maron in Respect

    "I first heard Dinah when I was just a kid," said Aretha at the time, "back around the time she made 'Fat Daddy.'

    "I never got to know her personally in those days, though she and my father were good friends.

    "The idea of recording a tribute to her grew out of the way I've always felt about her. I didn't try to do the songs the same way she did them, necessarily - just the way they felt best, whether they happened to be similar or different."

  4. When did Dinah Washington pass away?

    On December 14, 1963, Dinah Washington's sixth husband, football great Dick 'Night Train' Lane, found her in bed and not responsive.

    She was tragically pronounced dead at the scene, aged just 39.

    Her cause of death was ruled as a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital, prescriptions for her insomnia and diet.