Miss Rhythm — The Legend of Ruth Brown plays at the Garner Galleria Theatre through October 15 to bring R&B singer and actor Ruth Brown’s story to life. This show’s script mentions significant people, places and things that also affected Ruth Brown’s life.
Here’s a brief rundown of each person, place and thing mentioned in Miss Rhythm.
“Sanford and Son” – A 1972 sitcom starring comedian Red Foxx and Demond Wilson who play father and son, Fred and Lamont Sanford. They own a junkyard called Sanford and Son in California and get into a series of adventures with the estranged, Bible-toting Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), Grady (Whitman Mayo), Bubba (Don Bexley) and more. The pioneering show featured the first predominantly Black cast since “Amos ’n’ Andy” in 1951 and went on to last for six seasons.
- Hairspray – A 1988 movie with Ruth Brown as Motormouth Maybelle, Sonny Bono as Franklin Von Tussle, Debbie Harry as Velma Von Tussle, and more about a plump teenager who earns a spot on a popular teen dance show. She pushes for more cultural diversity on the show in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland. The 2007 remake also has an A-list cast with Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron and more.
- Black and Blue – A 1989 Broadway musical starring Ruth Brown, Linda Hopkins, Carrie Smith and more celebrating the great legacy of classic African-American song, dance and music traditions. Ruth Brown scored a Tony Award for the “Best Actress in a Musical” category in 1989.
- Jimmy Brown – A trumpeter and one of Ruth’s husbands.
- Lucky Millinder’s Band – Ruth Brown sang for Lucky Millinder’s Band for a while. She was fired after a gig in Washington D.C. for bringing sodas to the band members.
- Blanche Calloway – The first woman to lead an all-male jazz orchestra, the older sister of Cab Calloway and the first African-American woman to vote in Florida in 1958. Blanche discovered Ruth and served as her agent after Ruth was let go from Lucky Millinder’s Band. Blanche also gave Ruth a gig at the Crystal Caverns Nightclub.
- Cab Calloway – A bandleader, singer and entertainer during the Swing Era. He’s also the younger brother of Blanche Calloway.
- Crystal Caverns Club – A jazz club, aka Bohemian Caverns, owned by Blanche Calloway. Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ruth Brown and other musicians played here.
- Willis Conover – A DJ for Music USA on Voice of America. Willis, Sonny Til, and Duke Ellington heard Ruth Brown sing at the Crystal Caverns and called Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson at Atlantic Records about this raw talent.
- Sonny Til – Singer of Sonny Til and The Orioles. The band is well known for its reputation as the Founding Fathers of Rhythm and Blues.
- Duke Ellington – One of the greatest jazz composers, bandleaders and pianists. He was one of the big-band jazz originators. He was responsible for hits like “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “In A Sentimental Mood” and more.
- Ahmet Ertegun – A Turkish-American music executive who founded Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson in 1947. Willis Conover called Ahmet and Herb to tell them about Ruth Brown after seeing her perform at the Crystal Caverns. Ahmet had a representative speak with Brown and give her a record deal.
- Herb Abramson – Co-founder of Atlantic Records. He spent a lot of his time collecting jazz and blues records, and eventually became a part-time producer for National Records. He joined forces with Ahmet Ertegun, a fellow record collector, and the rest was history.
- Atlantic Records – Considered “The House That Ruth Built,” held many greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, Led Zeppelin and more. Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson started Atlantic in 1947 as a major label for jazz and R&B. On her way to New York to sign and perform at the Apollo, Ruth endured a car accident that crushed her legs. She signed her contract from a hospital bed and Atlantic paid her medical bills.
- Apollo Theater – Known as “The Soul of American Culture,” this Harlem theater in New York launched the careers of many performers in the jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul eras. Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey debuted at the Apollo in 1934. Ruth performed at the Apollo in 1954 with her hit, “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”
- Grand Ole Opry – The Nashville stage that exhibits country music’s past, present and future with Johnny Cash, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and more. Ruth performed at the Grand Ole Opry in 1986 for a tribute show dedicated to DJ John “John R” Richbourg.
- George Shearing – British pianist and composer Sir George Shearing. He was a blind, self-taught musician who found fame and fortune in the U.S. with elegant jazz stylings. Ruth Brown performed in a 1950s concert with George Shearing, Count Basie, The Jacks, Sonny Til and the Orioles and more. Their names and faces also shared a concert poster.
- Billy Eckstine – An African-American jazz, bebop and ballad singer with a deep voice. Ruth Brown toured with Eckstine in the 50s and also shared billing on a poster.
- The Count Basie Orchestra – Founded by William “Count” Basie in Kansas City, Missouri in 1927 where he found his love for the Blues. Some key soloists, composers, arrangers, and vocalists included Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Frank Foster, and more. Ruth Brown was a featured vocalist for the Orchestra, and the Orchestra still plays gigs today long after Count Basie’s death.
- Redd Fox – Comedian and actor on “Sanford and Son,” Harlem Nights and more, Foxx and Ruth were good friends. He was the opening act for her on tours.
- Mahalia Jackson – Known as the “Queen of Gospel Song,” Mahalia sang at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Ruth played Mahalia in the musical Selma, which was backed by Red Foxx in 1976. This “comeback” launched Ruth’s stage, television and film careers.
- “The Jeffersons” – A spin off of “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” focused on George and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson (played by Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford), a Black couple who “moved on up” from a quiet neighborhood to a luxurious city apartment. The show aired from 1975 to 1985. Ruth Brown made a guest appearance on an 1981 episode.
- John Waters – Director of 1988’s Hairspray movie. Ruth Brown mentioned in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that her and John had differences on set, but Divine stepped in as the mediator. Hairspray introduced Ruth to a new generation of music lovers.
- Divine – Born Harris Glenn Milstead, Divine is an actor, recording star, and a legendary drag icon. Divine performed with Ruth in Hairspray. Ruth said in the aforementioned Chicago Tribune interview that Divine mediated between her and John Waters. He told her, “Don’t worry, Ruth. For every fan that you lose there are two more that you’ll win.”
- The Rhythm and Blues Foundation – A foundation Ruth started to help R&B singers receive their royalties from big record labels. The company also provides support for artists’ family members.
- Lena Horne – American singer, dancer, actor and Civil Rights activist. She played in Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, two heavy-hitter 1943 MGM musicals.
- Ray Charles – A blind blues musician with hits such as “Hit the Road Jack,” “I Can’t Stop Loving’ You,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “What’d I Say Pt. 1 & 2” and so many more. He signed with Atlantic Records in 1954. Comedian, actor, and singer Jamie Foxx portrayed Ray Charles in the 2004 movie, Ray, scoring Foxx an Oscar for Best Actor.
- Joe Williams – Known for hits, “Everyday (I Have The Blues),” “The Comeback,” and “Alright Okay You Win,” Joe Williams performed with the Count Basie Orchestra and collaborated on the album, Everyday I Have The Blues.
- Bonnie Raitt – American singer and songwriter ranging from R&B to gospel, blues, country rock and more. She inducted Ruth Brown into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
For more references, music and fun, check out Miss Rhythm – The Legend of Ruth Brown at the Garner Galleria Theatre playing now through October 15.
Miss Rhythm – The Legend of Ruth Brown
May 6 – Oct 15, 2023 • Garner Galleria Theatre