It was 1960 and the sensuous songstress Dusty Springfield was part of a tuneful trio from the UK named The Springfields. Largely due to her husky, soulful vocals the folksy act had climbed to the top of the charts with several singles such as “Silver Thread and Golden Needles”.
The act was history a mere two years later. Springfield saw this as an opportunity to re-invent herself. She went from being an alto folk singer to a sultry white soul siren.
Her signature sound was distilled into a rare, raw passionate presentation. Add panda-eye black mascara and a towering beehive coif and she was back in the limelight with her premiere platter as a solo singer A Girl Called Dusty. In no time at all, Springfield was the tuneful trailblazer of what some called a “fickle fashion” and music spectacle soon to be known as “mod”.
Springfield recorded what critics now consider her “landmark” LP, Dusty in Memphis, in 1969. Despite the success of her international hit “Son of a Preacher Man”, her income was on the decline. A decade of incredible activity took its toll on her physically as well. Multiple bouts of laryngitis permanently weakened her voice and substance abuse had compromised her health.
She grew tired of being famous and retired to California. She would appear on other artists’ albums as a guest vocalist and even made what some considered “a half-hearted” comeback in 1978 that drew little attention. For the remainder of her life she would largely remain dormant in terms of her musical career and would focus her efforts instead on issues such as gay rights and supporting animal protection agencies.
As 1994 opened Springfield returned to the studio to record what would be her last album, A Very Fine Love. Springfield became ill and upon her return to England a few months later, her doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. Thanks to radiation treatment her cancer went into temporary remission.
She went out to promote her new disc in 1995. Halfway through the following year her breast cancer returned. On March 2, 1999 in Henley-on-Thames in the UK at the age of 59 she died. She never made it to her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame scheduled a mere ten days later.
Elton John, a friend of Springfield, made a statement at her posthumous induction saying: “I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been . . . Every song she sang, she claimed as her own.”
Her funeral service was attended by fans and friends alike including Elvis Costello and the Pet Shop Boys. A marker dedicated to her memory was placed in the graveyard at the church of St. Mary the Virgin, in Henley-on-Thames. Springfield was cremated.
Some of her ashes were buried there, some remain with her family and the rest scattered by her brother, Tom Springfield at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Dusty Springfield’s music would live on even though her body would be returned to the dust.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.