Today 13th April is celebrated as “Dusty Day” to remember the life of the great singer and a daughter of the Irish Diaspora Dusty Springfield. The 16 April 1939 was the birthday of Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien OBE and “Dusty Day” is held on the nearest Sunday to what this year would have been her 75th Birthday. Dusty’s father Gerard Anthony O’Brien (a tax accountant) hailed from Co. Clare and her mother Catherine Ryle from Co. Kerry, Ireland. Born in Hampstead, She grew up in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and went to St Anne’s Convent School, Little Ealing Lane, Northfields, West London.
She began her singing career in a ‘Girl Group’ called the Lana Sisters during the late 1950s. The Lana Sisters never managed to get a chart hit though they were familiar performers to British TV viewers. They probably came closest with a version of ‘Seven Little Girls’ which they made with Al Saxon who took the male vocals. Her first taste of real success came when she teamed up with her brother Tom Springfield (Dion O’Brien) and his friend Tim Field. Together they formed the ‘Springfields’ who produced a blend of ‘folk’ and pop that audiences were ready for at the beginning of the 1960s.
With her distinctive sensual sound, she was an important blue-eyed soul singer and at her peak was one of the most successful British female performers, with six top 20 singles on the United States Billboard Hot 100 and sixteen on the United Kingdom Singles Chart from 1963 to 1989. She is a member of both the US Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame. International polls have named Springfield among the best female rock artists of all time. Her image, supported by a peroxide blonde bouffant hairstyle, evening gowns, and heavy make-up, made her an icon of the Swinging Sixties.
Dusty was never reported to be in a heterosexual relationship and this meant that the issue of her sexual orientation was raised frequently during her life. From mid-1966 to the early 1970s Springfield lived in a domestic partnership with fellow singer Norma Tanega. In September 1970, Springfield told Ray Connolly of the Evening Standard:
“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.”
By the standards of 1970, that was a very bold statement. Three years later, she explained to Chris Van Ness of the Los Angeles Free Press:
“I mean, people say that I’m gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I’m not anything. I’m just … People are people… I basically want to be straight … I go from men to women; I don’t give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can’t love a man. Now, that’s my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition … They frighten me.”
Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, had been scheduled two weeks after her death. Her friend Elton John helped induct her into the Hall of Fame, declaring, “I’m biased but I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been … Every song she sang, she claimed as her own.”
She died in Henley on Thames on the 2nd March 1999. Her funeral service was attended by hundreds of fans and people from the music business, including Elvis Costello, Lulu, and the Pet Shop Boys. A marker dedicated to her memory was placed in the church graveyard of the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin. Some of her ashes were buried at Henley, while the rest were scattered by her brother, Tom Springfield (Dion O’Brien), at the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland.
See: Cliffs of Moher
Each year her fans gather in Henley to celebrate “Dusty Day” on the closest Sunday to her birthday (16 April) and an annual Dusty Day fundraiser is held in London with the proceeds going to the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital.
Respect and love to Dusty Springfield.
Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien OBE (16 April 1939 – 2 March 1999), known professionally as Dusty Springfield
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