We lost the British singer DUSTY SPRINGFIELD (OBE) on this date (b. 1939). Born as Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in Ealing, London, she was born to an Irish Roman Catholic family that loved music, Mary O’Brien learned to sing at home. Springfield started her singing career in The Lana Sisters (1958-1960) and later with her brother Dion O’Brien and Tim Feild in The Springfields (1960-1963). In 1963 she started her solo career.
Springfield began her solo career in 1963 with the upbeat pop hit, “I Only Want To Be With You“. Her following hits included “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”, “Wishin’ and Hopin'” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”.
A fan of American pop music, she campaigned to bring the little-known soul singers to a wider British audience by devising and hosting the first British performances of the top-selling Motown Records artists in 1965. Her rendition of “The Look of Love”, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was included on the soundtrack of the James Bond movie Casino Royale (1967) and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song in 1967.
The marked changes of pop music in the mid-1960s left many female pop singers out of fashion. To boost her credibility as a soul artist, Springfield went to Memphis, Tennessee, to record an album of pop and soul music with the Atlantic Records main production team. Dusty in Memphis earned Springfield a nomination for the Grammy Award and it received the Grammy Hall of Fame award. International polls list the album among the greatest of all time. Its standout track “Son of a Preacher Man” was an international Top 10 hit in 1969. Subsequently, Springfield’s success dipped for eighteen years. Collaborations with the Pet Shop Boys returned her to the Top 20 of the British and American charts with “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”, “Nothing Has Been Proved” and “In Private”. In 1995, Ms. Springfield was diagnosed with breast cancer which eventually caused her death in 1999.
At various times during her life and career, Springfield either identified herself or was identified by others as being Bisexual or a Lesbian. Springfield first broached this idea into the media mainstream in 1970 when she told a reporter for The Evening Standard that “A lot of people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve almost learned to accept it….I know I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy.” By 1970 standards, Springfield had made a very bold statement.
There is some debate among friends and fans regarding this issue; Springfield was intensely private about her personal life, and after the 1970 interview, she did not directly address the question or make a definitive statement regarding her sexuality in the press. Springfield occasionally made subtle references; during a 1978 concert at Drury Lane in London, attended by Princess Margaret, Springfield noted a number of Gay men in the front rows and made a comment that she was “glad to see that the royalty wasn’t confined to the box”. At another concert, Springfield told her audience, “Give a butch roar or a girlish shriek, I don’t mind who does what, sort it out for yourselves!”
Several biographies about Springfield also have conflicting information. Lucy O’Brien’s biography, Dusty, mentions the rumors in passing, whereas Penny Valentine’s 2000 book Dancing with Demons, which included significant contributions by Springfield’s friend and manager Vicki Wickham, identifies Springfield as a Lesbian. Singer-songwriter Carole Pope of the Canadian band Rough Trade disclosed in her 2001 book Anti-Diva that she and Springfield had a relationship and lived together in Toronto when Springfield worked with her. (Pope wrote the song “Soft Core” which appeared on “White Heart“). Wickham was Springfield’s close friend and manager for over a decade of the enigmatic British singer’s career, she stated that Springfield was terrified of divulging the fact she was Lesbian.
Springfield was voted the Top British Female Artist in the New Musical Express reader’s polls in 1964, 1965 and 1968. Interest in Springfield’s early output was revived in 1994, due to the inclusion of “Son of a Preacher Man” on the soundtrack of the movie, Pulp Fiction. She is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame. International polls have named Springfield among the best female rock artists of all time.