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Rakim Allah remembers Ruth Brown

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Rakim Allah remembers Ruth Brown

JAN. 12, 1928-NOV. 17, 2006

By the time I realized there was something mystical in the way music infused my life, Ruth Brown had been performing for 27 years. Surrounded by sound under a rooftop that sheltered saxophonists, gospel singers, drummers, and the unceasing cadence of ’50s and ’60s soul, she would orchestrate the daily routines of myself and my brothers and sisters while sewing sequins onto the outfit she had chosen for that night’s Apollo show, all while exuding an energy born of the smoky jazz clubs of D.C. and the bright stages of Broadway. ”Miss Rhythm” helped build Atlantic Records into an R&B mecca and herself into the Queen Mother of Rhythm and Blues with hits like ”So Long” and ”(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” But at home she was Aunt Ruth — quietly imparting sophistication and professionalism that have guided my own career. During the resurgence of her popularity in the ’70s, ’80s, and through the ’90s, she shifted effortlessly between family, the stage, the screen, and her new passion: the tireless fight for the rights of recording artists through the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. With this balance and focus, she became an icon to women around the world, her peers, and five decades’ worth of loyal fans. To me, she remained Aunt Ruth Brown — my family and one of the first musicians to affect my future. (Brown died of complications from a heart attack and stroke in Las Vegas.)

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