Dusty Springfield (April 16, 1939 – March 2, 1999) was an English singer with a career in pop that spanned nearly four decades.
As part of sibling folk trio The Springfields, she scored one of the earliest stateside hits by a UK act when “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” made the Billboard Top 20 in 1962.
Going solo as the British Invasion erupted, she amassed further transatlantic triumphs with “I Only Want to Be With You” and the lilting 1966 smash “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Her reputation as an album-oriented artist solidified with the 1967/68 releases Where Am I Going? and Dusty… Definitely.
In 1969, she released the career-defining Dusty in Memphis, recorded in that city’s famed American Sound Studio with Atlantic session players. Albums followed at sporadic intervals through the 1970s and into the early ’80s. Following a period of inactivity, she reemerged in 1987 when Neil Tennant summoned her for a duet on the Pet Shop Boy’s “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
She passed in 1999 at age 59 from breast cancer.
Springfield was born Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien on April 16, 1939, in West Hampstead to parents of Irish descent. Her father, a part-time pianist, would tap out rhythms on her hand and ask her to name the tune. She listened to a mix of show tunes (Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein), big band (Count Basie, Duke Ellington), and jazz vocalists (Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford). At age 12, she made her first amateur recording, an impromptu rendition of Irving Berlin’s “When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabama.”
Starting in 1957, Mary Isabel sang in local folk clubs with her older brother, Dion O’Brien (b. July 2, 1934). The following year, she joined the pop-vocal act The Lana Sisters, featuring Iris Long and Lynne Abrams (not sisters). They performed on the BBC’s Drumbeat with Adam Faith, partook in a Christmas special with Tommy Steele, and toured with Cliff Richard and the comedy duo Morecambe & Wise. In 1960, they hit the Irish Top 10 with “You’ve Got What it Takes.”
Mary left the Lana Sisters and rejoined Dion and family friend Tim Feild in a folk-pop trio, The Springfields, where they assumed the names Dusty, Tom, and Tim Springfield, inspired by their springtime rehearsals in a Somerset field. They hit the UK charts with the 1961 singles “Breakaway” and “Bambino” before Tim cleared way for Mike Hurst. (Tim later emerged as mystic author Reshad Feild.)
In 1962, The Springfields became the first UK act to break the US market when their single “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” reached #20 on the Billboard Top 40. It predated The Tornados US #1 “Telstar” by two months and The Beatles stateside conquest by 15 months.
The Springfields cut their third album, Folk Songs from the Hills, in Nashville, Tenn., where Dusty took to R&B and country music. In 1963, they hit the UK Top 5 with “Island of Dreams” and “Say I Won’t Be There.” Dusty, feeling stifled by the group’s folk style and Tom’s leadership role, decided to launch a solo career.
Post-split, Tom Springfield produced and wrote songs for Aussie pop-folksters The Seekers. Hurst formed a short-lived band with Jimmy Page and Tony Ashton, then went into production (Cat Stevens, Manfred Mann, The Move, Spencer Davis Group).
In November 1963, Dusty debuted as a solo singer with the buoyant Spector-style number “I Only Want to Be with You”, co-written and arranged by Ivor Raymonde. Graced by her flowing mezzo-soprano and “wall of sound” production (courtesy of Johnny Franz), it shot to #4 in the UK and #12 in the US, heralding the British Invasion.
- A Girl Called Dusty (1964)
- Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty (1965)
- Where Am I Going? (1967)
- Dusty… Definitely (1968)
- Dusty in Memphis (1969)
- A Brand New Me (1970)
- See All Her Faces (1972)
- Cameo (1973)
- It Begins Again (1978)
- Living Without Your Love (1979)
- White Heat (1982)
- Reputation (1990)
- The Advocate: “The secret life of Dusty Springfield” (April 27, 1999)
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