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Springfield (Mary O'Brien)
Life Span: Born
16th April 1939, West Hampstead; Died 2nd March
1999, Henley-on-Thames, London.
Star Sign: Aries
As: Popular British soul singer
Her full name was Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien.
She was born into an unstable family environment - her
parents did not get along, and she constantly felt overshadowed
by her older brother Dion. Nevertheless, she was inspired
by her father's love of Jazz and classical music, and
the voice of Peggy Lee, and developed a love of singing.
Her ambition showed itself at an early age; when the 10
year-old Mary was asked what she wanted to be, the reply
came "I want to be a blues singer!"
After leaving school, O'Brien began sculpting her singing
career by singing with in local folk clubs with her brother
Dion. In 1958, she responded to an advert to join a female
singing trio called the Lana Sisters. For two years, the
groups enjoyed some success in UK and the US, and O'Brien
was glad of the experience of singing on stage, harmonising
and microphone technique this gave her.
In 1960, she left the group to join Dion and their friend
Tim Field in the group The Springfields. The name apparently
came, very simply, from the fact that in spring, they
would go and rehearse in the fields. This was also when
Dion took the name Tom Springfield, and Mary O'Brien became
For three years they were relatively successful, having
cornered a musical niche which appealed to people who,
as Dusty put it "were cheerful and jumped around
a lot". In 1962, when the group were visiting Memphis,
Tennessee, Dusty was greatly inspired by the Motown music
she heard there, especially a song called 'Tell Him' by
The Exciters. She commented that it was "The most
exciting thing I had ever heard, the attack in it!".
After this time, she began to feel a need to have control
over her own music, and inject into it the soulful, Motown
sound which had so inspired her.
In 1963, The Springfields split up, performing a farewell
concert at the London Palladium in September.
O'Brien retained the name Dusty Springfield, and January
1964 saw the start of her long, successful solo career,
with her first single 'I Only Want To Be With You'. The
song was an energetic pop/motown hybrid that began to
show Dusty's naturally soulful vocal style.
With this and her follow up singles from the album 'A
Girl Called Dusty' (1964), she had truly cornered yet
another musical niche - a link between soul and pop -
that was to gain her enormous amounts of success during
the sixties. Between 1963 and 1969, she had a string of
Her first number one single was 'You Don't Have To Say
You Love Me', in 1966.
She became something of a European pioneer of Motown,
not only in her music but also by hosting programmes such
as a Ready Steady Go - Motown Special on the UK channel
Her success began to falter at the end of the sixties,
as Dusty herself began to question the direction she was
going in. He 1967 album 'Where Am I Going' reflected this,
and was not as successful, though it did show Dusty's
unique ability to adapt her voice to many different styles.
With touring exhaustion and bouts of laryngitis setting
in, she felt herself losing control of her career, and
more importantly being guided towards the sweeping orchestral
arrangements and outlandish, long dresses of the adult
Her 1969 album, 'Dusty in Memphis' cured this. Her voice
became the focus, and the sound was calmer, more introspective.
Her voice was an instrument in the ensemble, as she had
always aspired it to be.
It was also the most critically acclaimed of her albums,
and from it, she enjoyed huge success with the single
'Son of a Preacher Man', for many years to come.
The seventies and eighties saw less and less of Dusty
in the limelight, but her music continued, always reaching
to a standard that had been set by 'Dusty in Memphis'.
Certainly in critics' eyes, at any rate.
Her web biographer Andy Robinson writes: "Too many
biographical pieces falsely state that “Dusty vanished
from the scene as the sixties came to a close.”
It is my opinion that, during the seventies and into the
eighties, Dusty made some of her finest work, drawing
on both past and present personal experience and thus
emotionally charging her material as never before."
It was unfortunately also a time of depression, substance
abuse and self doubt for the singer.
returned to the limelight in 1987, collaborating with
The Pet Shop Boys on their single 'What Have I Done to
Deserve This?'. The song gave Dusty a chance to show that
she had not lost her unique talent in the years where
she had largely been forgotten by the pop industry.
More albums and collaborations followed, most notably
with Richard Carpenter (of The Carpenters) on his album
'Time'. This return to the limelight continued well into
the nineties, but ended when Dusty was diagnosed with
breast cancer 1994. Chemotherapy sent the disease into
remission, but in 1996 it returned, and there was very
little that could be done.
In March 1999, Dusty finally lost her battle. Her funeral
took place in Henley-on-Thames, to a final audience of
devoted fans numbering in the hundreds. Andy Robinson
remarks: "So many, in fact, that the town centre
was closed to traffic. Dusty once said she wanted to bring
Henley to a standstill, and she did!"
Friends & Relationships:
Dusty's personality and behaviour were notorious among
her contemporary musicians. She was eccentric, prone to
mood swings and painfully shy. Much of this has been attributed
to her dysfunctional upbringing, and her mother's erratic
behaviour. Others have also noted that her reputation
as a 'difficult' artist in the studio can now be seen
to, in part, have roots in the male dominated music industry
of the sixties, and the way in which it was unaccustomed
to female musicians being in control of their own studio
Her later emotional instability is said to have roots
in the inner conflict she experienced with her Catholic
upbringing and her sexuality.
This was alluded to in a 1975 interview in the Evening
Standard, when Dusty implied that she was bisexual.
This was the only reference she made to her sexuality
in her life, aside from a comment she made between songs
at a concert in the early eighties, regarding Lesbian
rights, which got her into a lot of trouble at the time.
Despite her general unwillingness to talk about the subject,
biographers revealed that she had been a lesbian, after
Aside from her music, Dusty was involved in animal rights
with her friend Billy-Jean King, and famously adored her
cats Malaysia and Nicholas. She even dedicated the album
'Reputation' to Malaysia after she was run over and killed.
Her closest friend, who became her manager in later years,
was Vicki Wickham. It was she who largely encouraged Dusty
to carry on during the lowest moments of her career, when
she suffered many blows to her already low confidence.
In 1964, the New Musical Express named her best Female
Vocal Artist, and in 1967, she was nominated for an oscar
for her song 'The Look of Love', the theme from the film
She received her OBE in New Years honours in 1999, just
a month before her death. Ten days after her death, she
was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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