The singer Dusty Springfield and the Swinging Sixties
The Swinging Sixties wouldn’t be complete without singer Dusty Springfield in it. Known for her blonde bouffant and her powerful voice, Dusty became one of the most iconic singers in the gay community.
Singer Dusty Springfield: Transcending race and gender
The English-born and -bred Dusty could sing anything with her smoky and sensual voice. Whether it be pop, folk, jazz, soul, it’d still retain her signature style.
She was dubbed the queen of blue-eyed soul, and often mistaken as a black artist by people who have heard her, but haven’t seen her.
Because of this, she was welcomed and respected by black artists as a performer and promoter of soul music, whether hosting the cutting edge television show, Ready Steady Go! or singing their covers on her show and making it her own.
She broke free from the conventions of female British singers, and sang American tracks naturally. As Britain’s sole soul singer, Dusty herself admitted she was mesmerized by Martha Reeves and Aretha Franklin.
Her inspirations helped her become one of the most powerful female voices of her generation. Her album Dusty in Memphis was named one of the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone.
But racism was widespread not only in England and America, but in several countries during her time.
Because she loathed prejudice to homosexuals, Dusty refused to perform before segregated audiences, which got her deported from her tour in South Africa.
Fellow performers, Max Bygraves and Derek Nimmo, blamed Dusty for making it difficult for British entertainers to go to the Cape and earn big money.
Singer Dusty Springfield: Breaking the Sixties conventions
Dusty Springfield was born as Mary O’Brien in 1939 in West Hampstead, London.
Raised by a Baptist church and a music-loving family, Springfield had a rough upbringing: the nuns wanted her to be a librarian, and her dysfunctional family was prone to fighting at the dinner table.
She immersed herself in jazz music and rebelled against their expectations, which included having a heterosexual relationship.
“Many other 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. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” she told Ray Connolly of the Evening Standard.
The Swinging Sixties was not as liberated and swinging as it seemed. At the time, lesbianism was seen as an affliction to be treated with medication and shock therapy.
Springfield’s sexual orientation was constantly under public scrutiny, which explains “the silence and secrecy she extended over much of her life, and her self-loathing.”
According to fellow singer Norma Tanega, one of her partners, Springfield “wanted to be straight and she wanted to be a good Catholic and she wanted to be black.”
Despite her initial success in the music industry, she experienced a career slump because of her personal misbehavior.
She suffered from bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and lost her front teeth from a domestic fight.
She also lost the chance to record a Bond theme soundtrack and was fired from the show, Talk of the Town.
Singer Dusty Springfield: Final years of fame
Dusty was back in the spotlight in the late 80’s and early 90’s, thanks to her collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys and hits such as “Son of A Preacher.”
While she recorded her penultimate album, A Very Fine Love in January 1994, she suddenly fell ill. Upon her return to England, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She died in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire on March 2, 1999.
“She’s into her music; it’s 100% of her life. Anything else is secondary,” declared Martha Reeves, one of her earlier idols.
Long after her life ended, her beautiful, soaring voice remains a source of inspiration to music lovers and the LGBT groups worldwide.
Check out her video below singing her signature tune, “Song of a Preacher Man.”