BABY WASHINGTON: A Handful Of Memories (Jasmine)

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Baby Washington will forever be remembered for her bitter/sweet 1963 soul ballad ‘That’s How Heartaches Are Made’. Like Barbara Lewis’ ‘Hello Stranger’ it sort of defines the artist and though ‘Heartaches’ has been covered countless times (notably by Dusty Springfield), the original, despite the passing of time, still sounds fresh and convincing.

As with Barbara Lewis, soul collectors will tell you that there was much more to Baby Washington than that one song. She was active both before and after her brush with fame and this new 28 track Jasmine retrospective shows exactly what she achieved just prior to ‘Heartaches’.   

Though born in South Carolina (in 1940) Jeanette Washington was raised in Harlem where, as a teen, she gravitated to the local music scene – working with both the Hearts and Jaynetts vocal groups. In 1958 she signed solo to Neptune Records where she scored a couple of local hits … ‘This Time’ and ‘The Bells’. A number of her early releases were credited to Jeanette “Baby” Washington (Baby was her nickname) and when she signed to ABC in 1961 she officially became Baby Washington – chiefly to avoid confusion with a similarly named singer.

Two ABC singles flopped so Ms W moved on to join Juggy Murray’s Sue Records and it was at Sue that she finally broke through with ‘That’s How Heartaches Are Made’. Sadly, that wonderful tune is conspicuous by its absence on this collection (copyright issues, I guess) but more or less everything else she recorded prior to that is here, including her work with the Hearts and the Jaynetts.

The collection is rightly offered in chronological order and thus you can hear the evolution of Ms Washington’s sound which in itself echoes the evolution of soul – from rough-hewn R&B with a hint of doo-wop, blues and gospel to embryonic soul. Of particular interest is ‘Let Love Go By’ – a 1961 ABC single which garnered some attention on the Northern soul scene many years back. It has a rough and ready sound and on the tracks that follow – particularly the Sue recordings – you get just a hint of what was to come. Indeed, things like ‘Hush Heart’ and ‘A Handful of Memories’ aren’t a million miles away from what Berry Gordy was trying to create with contemporary groups like the Marvelettes.

Throughout the album there’s ample evidence that Baby Washington was a contender. She just needed that one big song and that’s exactly what ‘That’s How Heartaches Are Made’ was… maybe it was just too big! Ms Washington could never find another one as good. However, she continued to work through the 60s and early 70s but she dropped off the radar as disco took hold. Now aged 80, she still occasionally works. Over the years she’s appeared at Northern soul festivals and for a time she worked with vocal group The Enchanters.

Many years ago, Dusty Springfield said that Baby Washington was her favourite singer of all time… investigate here and see if dear Dusty was right!

(BB) 3/5