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Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien OBE (16 April 1939 – 2 March 1999), known as Dusty Springfield, was a pop singer and entertainer. Of all the female British pop artists of the 1960s, she made one of the biggest impressions on the American market. Owing to her distinctive sensual sound, she was one of the most notable white soul artists.

Born to an Irish Roman Catholic family that loved music, Mary O'Brien learned to sing at home. Springfield began her solo career in 1963 with the upbeat pop hit, "I Only Want To Be With You". Her following hits included "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself", "Wishin' and Hopin'", and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" .

A fan of American pop music, she campaigned to bring the little-known soul singers to a wider British audience by devising and hosting the first British performances of the top-selling Motown Records artists in 1965. Her rendition of "The Look of Love", written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was featured in the James Bond movie Casino Royale (1967) and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song in 1967.

The marked changes of pop music in the mid-1960s left many female pop singers out of fashion. To boost her credibility as a soul artist, Springfield went to Memphis, Tennesseemarker, to record an album of pop and soul music with the Atlantic Records main production team. This album, Dusty in Memphis, earned Springfield a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1970, and it received the Grammy Hall of Fame award in 2001. International readers and viewers polls list the record among the one hundred greatest albums of all time. This album's standout song, "Son of a Preacher Man", was an international Top 10 hit in 1969. After that album, Springfield's pop music success dipped for many years. In 1987, collaborations with the Pet Shop Boys returned her to the Top 20 of the British and American charts with the three singles "What Have I Done to Deserve This?", "Nothing Has Been Proved", and "In Private". In 1995, Ms. Springfield was diagnosed by her physicians with serious breast cancer.

Springfield was voted the Top British Female Artist in the New Musical Express reader's poll in 1964, 1965, and 1968. Interest in Springfield's early output was revived in 1994, due to the inclusion of "Son of a Preacher Man" on the soundtrack of the movie, Pulp Fiction. She is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame. Springfield has been named among the best 25 female rock artists of all time in the international readers and artists polls by Mojo, Q, and VH1.


Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien was born in West Hampsteadmarker, England, to an Irish family, and was raised in the West London borough of Ealingmarker. The name "Dusty" was given to her when she was a girl, since she had been something of a tomboy in her early years. Dusty was brought up listening to a wide range of music, including George Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Glenn Miller, among others. She was a fan of American jazz and the vocalists Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford, and wished to sound like them. Her father, a tax consultant, used to tap out rhythms on the back of her hand, encouraging Dusty to guess the musical piece. At age 11, she went into a local record shop in Ealing and made her first record, one of Irving Berlin's songs, "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam".

First bands (1958–63)

After finishing school in 1958, Mary O'Brien responded to the advertisement to join an "established sister act", The Lana Sisters. With this vocal group, she developed the art of harmonizing, learned microphone technique, recorded, did some television performances, and played live both in the U.K. and at U.S. Air Force bases.

In 1960, Dusty left the band and formed a pop-folk trio with her brother, Dion O'Brien, and Reshad Feild (who was later replaced by Mike Hurst). The new trio changed their names to Dusty, Tom, and Tim Springfield, and they chose The Springfields as their name during a rehearsal in a field in Somersetmarker in the springtime. Intending to make an authentic American album, the Springfields traveled to Nashville, Tennesseemarker, to record the album Folk Songs from the Hills. The American pop tunes that she heard during her stay there helped to turn Springfield's career from the folk and country sounds towards the pop music rooted in rhythm and blues. During the spring of 1963, the Springfields recorded their last British Top 5 hit, "Say I Won't Be There", before disbanding. They played their last concert in October 1963.

A Girl Called Dusty (1963–64)

Dusty Springfield's first single, the soul-tinted "I Only Want to Be with You", was released in November 1963. This song, Springfield's first flirtation with American soul, was arranged by Ivor Raymonde, and it paid homage to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production style. This single rose to #4 in the British charts and #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. This song was a "sure shot" pick on the influential New York pop music station WMCA in December 1963. The release eventually charted into the top 10 on WMCA's weekly top 25 countdown survey. It was record #48 of the year 1964 of the Musicradio WABCmarker Top. This song was also the first record played on BBC-TV's Top of the Pops program.

Springfield's debut album A Girl Called Dusty included mostly covers of her favorite songs by other performers. Among the tracks were "Mama Said", "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes", "You Don't Own Me", and "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa". The album reached #6 in the U.K. in May 1964. The chart hits "Stay Awhile", "All Cried Out", and "Losing You" followed the same year. In 1964, Springfield recorded two Burt Bacharach songs: "Wishin' and Hopin'" - an American Top 10 hit - and "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself", which reached the British #3.

Springfield's tour of South Africa was interrupted in December 1964, after she performed before an integrated audience at a theatre near Cape Townmarker. Her flouting of the South African government's segregation policy resulted in her deportation from that country. In the same year, she was voted the Top Female British Artist in the New Musical Express poll of the year, topping Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. Springfield received the award again the following year.

1965 releases

In 1965, Springfield took part in the Italian Song Festival in Sanremo, failing to qualify to the final with two songs. During the competition, she heard the song "Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)". The English version of the song, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me", featured lyrics written by Springfield's friend and future manager, Vicki Wickham, and Simon Napier-Bell. It reached British #1 and American #4 on the weekly Billboard Hot 100, and was #35 on the Billboard Top 100 for 1966. The song, which Springfield called "good old schmaltz", was voted among the All Time Top 100 Songs by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 in 1999.

In 1965, Springfield published three more British Top 40 hits: "Your Hurtin' Kinda Love", "In the Middle of Nowhere", and Carole King's "Some of Your Lovin'". These were not included on the album Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty, featuring songs by Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, Rod Argent, and Randy Newman, and a cover of the traditional Mexican song, "La Bamba". This album peaked at #6 in the U.K.

The Sound of Motown (1965–66)

Because of her enthusiasm for Motown music, Springfield campaigned to get some little-known American soul music singers a better audience in the U.K. She devised and hosted The Sound Of Motown, a special edition of Ready Steady Go! TV programme on 28 April 1965. The show was broadcast by Rediffusion TV from their studios in Kingswaymarker, London. Springfield opened the two parts of the show, performing "Wishin' and Hopin'" and "Can't Hear You No More", accompanied by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Motown's in-house band The Funk Brothers. Other guests included The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder. In 1994, guests of the 1965 show credited Springfield's championing of their music for popularizing American soul music in the U.K. in the documentary, Dusty Springfield. Full Circle. Springfield released three additional U.K. Top 20 hits in 1966: "Little By Little", Carole King's "Going Back" and "All I See Is You". In fall 1966, she hosted Dusty, a series of 6 BBC TV music and talk shows. A compilation of her singles, Golden Hits, released in November 1966, reached #2 in the U.K.

The Look of Love (1967)

The Bacharach-David composition "The Look of Love" was designed as a centerpiece for the James Bond parody Casino Royale. For one of the slowest-tempo hits of the sixties, Bacharach created the sultry by minor-seventh and major-seventh chord changes, while Hal David's lyrics epitomized longing and lust. This song was recorded in two versions at the Philips Records Studios of London. The soundtrack version was recorded on January 29, and the single release version on April 14. This song is featured in the scene where Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd is persuading Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble, seen through a man-size aquarium. "The Look of Love" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song of 1967. This song was a Top 10 radio hit at the KGB and KHJ radio stations in the western United States. As in 1967, Springfield was not so popular in the United States, this song earned her highest place in the year's music charts, #22.

Where Am I Going? (1967–68)

By the end of 1967, Springfield was becoming disillusioned with the show-business carousel in which she found herself situated. She appeared out of step with the Summer of Love and its attendant psychedelic music. The second season of the BBC's Dusty TV shows, featuring performances of "Get Ready" and "I'll Try Anything", attracted a healthy audience, but it did not keep up with the sudden changes in the pop music market. The comparatively progressive and prophetically titled Where Am I Going? attempted to redress this. Containing a "jazzy", orchestrated version of "Sunny", and Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away", it was an artistic success, but flopped commercially. In 1968, a similar fate befell Dusty... Definitely. On this album, her choice of material ranged from the rolling "Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone" to the aching emotion of "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today". In that same year, Springfield had a British Top five hit "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten". Her personal TV shows continued with the ITV series of It Must Be Dusty, including a duet with Jimi Hendrix on the song "Mockingbird". In that same year, Roger Moore presented her the third Top British Female Artist award, voted by the readers of New Musical Express.

Memphis sessions (1968–69)

In 1968, Carole King, one of Springfield's songwriters, embarked on a singing career of her own, while the chart-peaking Bacharach-David partnership was foundering. Springfield's status in the music industry was further complicated by the progressive music revolution and the uncomfortable split between what was underground and "fashionable", and what was pop and "unfashionable". In addition, her performing career was becoming bogged down on the British touring circuit, which at that time largely consisted of working men's clubs, and the hotels and cabarets circuit. Hoping to reinvigorate her career and boost her credibility, Springfield signed with Atlantic Records, the record label of an idol of hers, Aretha Franklin. The Memphis sessions at the American Sound Studio were recorded by the A team of Atlantic Records: producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, the back-up vocal band Sweet Inspirations and the instrumental band "Memphis Cats", led by the guitarist Reggie Young and the bass guitar player Tommy Cogbill. The producers were the first to recognize that Springfield's natural soul voice should be placed at the forefront, rather than competing with full string arrangements. Due to Ms. Springfield's pursuit of perfection and what Jerry Wexler called, a "gigantic inferiority complex", her vocals were recorded later in New York.

The album Dusty in Memphis received a positive review from Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone magazine saying:"... most of the songs... have a great deal of depth while presenting extremely direct and simple statements about love.... Dusty sings around her material, creating music that's evocative rather than overwhelming... Dusty is not searching—she just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it." This album fell short of the British Top 15, and it peaked at #99 on the American Billboard Top 200, selling a disappointing 100,000 copies in the United States. However in 1970, this album earned Springfield a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. In 2001, Dusty in Memphis received the Grammy Hall of Fame award. This album was listed among the one hundred greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone and VH1 artists, New Musical Express readers, and the Channel 4 viewers polls. The standout track of the album, "Son of a Preacher Man", reached #10 on the British, American, and international music charts. Its continental success peaked at #10 on the Austrian charts and at #3 on the Swiss charts. The song was the 96th most popular song of 1969 in the United States.

Years without commercial success (1969–86)

In September and October 1969, Dusty Springfield hosted eight episodes of the BBC TV show Decidedly Dusty. In 1970, Springfield released her second album for Atlantic Records, A Brand New Me, featuring songs written and produced by Gamble and Huff. The album yielded a Billboard Top 25 single, "A Brand New Me". In 2007, its British counterpart, From Dusty With Love was listed among the 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die by the Guardian newspaper. A third album for the Atlantic label, titled Faithful and produced by Jeff Barry, was abandoned because of poor sales of singles slated for the album. Most of the material recorded for the aborted album was released on the 1999 reissue of Dusty in Memphis on Rhino Records. Her next album, See All Her Faces, was released only in Britain, having none of the cohesion of her previous two albums. In 1972, Springfield signed a contract with ABC Dunhill Records, and the resulting album, Cameo, was released in 1973 with little publicity.

In 1974, Springfield recorded the theme song for the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. Her second ABC Dunhill album was given the working title Elements and scheduled for release as Longing. The sessions were soon abandoned. A part of the material, including tentative and incomplete vocals, was released on the 2001 compilation Beautiful Soul. She put her career on hold in 1974, living reclusively in the United States to avoid scrutiny by British tabloids. During this time she sang background vocals for Anne Murray's album Together and Elton John's album Caribou, including the single "The Bitch is Back". Springfield released two albums on United Artists Records in the late '70s. The first was 1978's It Begins Again, produced by Roy Thomas Baker. The album charted only briefly in the U.K., though it was well received by critics. The 1979 album, Living Without Your Love, did even worse, not charting at all.. In autumn 1979, Springfield played club dates in New York Citymarker and in Londonmarker, she recorded two singles with David Mackay for her British label, Mercury Records. The first was the disco-influenced "Baby Blue", which reached #61 in Britain. The second, "Your Love Still Brings Me to My Knees" (released in January 1980) was Springfield's final single for Mercury Records (formerly Philips Records), which she had been with for nearly 20 years. On 3 December 1979, she performed a charity concert for a full house at the Royal Albert Hallmarker, in the presence of Princess Margaret. She signed an American deal with 20th Century Records in 1980, which resulted in the single "It Goes Like It Goes". Springfield was uncharacteristically proud of her 1982 album White Heat, influenced by the New Wave genre. She tried to revive her career again in 1985 by returning to the United Kingdom and signing to Peter Stringfellow's Hippodrome Records label. This resulted in the single "Sometimes Like Butterflies" and an appearance on Stringfellow's live television show. None of Springfield's recordings from 1971 to 1986 charted on the British or American Top 40s.

Comeback (1987–94)

In 1987, she accepted an invitation from the Pet Shop Boys to sing with the duo's Neil Tennant on their single "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" and appeared on the promotional video. This record rose to #2 on both the British and American charts. This song subsequently appeared on the "Pet Shop Boys" album Actually, and both of their greatest hits collections. Springfield sang lead vocals on the Richard Carpenter song "Something in Your Eyes", recorded for Carpenter's album Time. Released as a single, it became a #12 Adult Contemporary hit in the United States. Springfield recorded a duet with B.J. Thomas, "As Long as We Got Each Other", which was used as the theme song for the American sitcom Growing Pains.

A new compilation of Springfield's greatest hits, The Silver Collection, was issued in 1988. Springfield returned to the studio with the Pet Shop Boys, who produced her recording of their song "Nothing Has Been Proved", commissioned for the soundtrack of the film Scandal. Released as a single in early 1989, the song gave Springfield a U.K. Top 20 hit. So did its follow-up, the upbeat "In Private", written and produced by the Pet Shop Boys. She capitalised on this by recording the 1990 album Reputation, another U.K. Top 20 success. The writing and production credits for half the album, which included the two recent hit singles, went to the Pet Shop Boys, while the album's other producers included Dan Hartman. Before recording the Reputation album, Springfield decided to leave California for good, and by 1988, she had returned to Britain. In 1993, she was invited to record a duet with her former 1960s professional rival and friend, Cilla Black. The song, "Heart and Soul", was released as a single and also appeared on Black's Through the Years album.. In 1994, Springfield started recording the album A Very Fine Love for Sony Records. Some of the songs were written by well-known Nashville songwriters and produced with a typical country feel.

Illness and death (1994–99)

While recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in January 1994 in Nashville, Tennessee, Springfield felt ill. Upon returning to England a few months later, her physicians diagnosed her with breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and for a time, the cancer was in remission. In 1995, in apparent good health again, Springfield set about promoting the album, and she gave a live performance of "Where Is a Woman to Go?" on the BBC-TV music show Later With Jools Holland, backed up by Alison Moyet and Sinéad O'Connor. The last song Springfield recorded was the George and Ira Gershwin song "Someone To Watch Over Me". The song was recorded in London in 1995 for an insurance company television advertisement. It was included on Simply Dusty (2000), the extensive anthology that Springfield had helped plan, but did not live to see released. Cancer was detected again during the summer of 1996. After more vigorous treatment, she succumbed to the cancer in April 1999. She died in Henley-on-Thamesmarker on the day she had been due to go to Buckingham Palacemarker to receive her award of the Order of the British Empire. Before her death, officials of the Queen had given permission for the medal to be collected by Springfield's manager, Vicki Wickham, and it was presented to the singer in the hospital where they had been joined by a small party of friends and relatives. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker in Cleveland, Ohiomarker, had been scheduled for 10 days after her death. Her friend Sir Elton John helped induct her into the Hall of Fame, stating:

Springfield's funeral service was attended by hundreds of fans and people from the music business, including Elvis Costello, Lulu, and the Pet Shop Boys. It took place in Oxfordshire, at the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin, in Henley-on-Thamesmarker, the town where Springfield had lived during her last years. A marker dedicated to her memory was placed in the church graveyard. Some of Springfield's ashes were buried at Henley, while the rest were scattered by her brother, Tom Springfield, at the Cliffs of Mohermarker, County Claremarker, Irelandmarker. In what was considered a rare departure from royal protocol, Queen Elizabeth announced that she was "saddened" to learn of Springfield's death.

Selected quotes from the British obituaries:

"....the carefully shaded emotions she brought to the music of her prime....... she was the only white woman singer worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the great divas of 1960's soul music" Richard Williams, The Guardian

"The Queen of Pop is dead" The Daily Express

".....few would deny that Dusty Springfield was the finest female pop singer that Britain has ever produced" Mick Brown, The Daily Telegraph

"The finest female voice we ever had" The Independent

" much a part of 1960's Britain as the mini skirt...." The Times

"Dusty ended life as the Queen of Britpop" The Daily Mirror

"...the voice that haunted a generation" The Daily Mail

"The day the music died" The Guardian


The conflict between Dusty Springfield's Roman Catholic faith and her life is suspected of having deeply affected her. Springfield's biographers and journalists have suggested she had two personalities: shy, quiet, Mary O'Brien—and the public face she created in Dusty Springfield. In the 1970s and early 1980s, during a time when her career had slowed down, she succumbed to alcoholism and drug dependency (which she later battled successfully). She was hospitalized several times for self-harming (i.e., cutting), and was diagnosed as suffering from manic-depression. During this period of psychological and career instability, Springfield's involvement in some intimate relationships influenced by addiction resulted in episodes of personal injury (an incident in early 1983 led to her brief hospitalization at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where she was admitted under her real name and received medical attention from hospital staff unaware of who she was).

In her early career, much of her odd behavior was carried out more or less in fun and was treated as such (as, for example, her noted food fights and hurling a box of crockery down a flight of stairs).

Springfield had a "wicked" sense of humour and a great love for animals (particularly cats). She was an advocate for several animal-protection groups. She also enjoyed maps, getting lost, and navigating her way out.


The fact that Springfield was never reported to be in a relationship recognised by the public meant that the issue of her being "bisexual" continued to be raised throughout her life. In 1970, Springfield told the Evening Standard: By the standards of 1970, that was a very bold statement. Three years later, she explained to the Los Angeles Free Press:

In the 1970s and 1980s, Springfield became involved in several romantic relationships with women in the U.S.A. and in Canada that were not kept secret from the gay and lesbian community. Her love affair with singer-musician Carole Pope, of rock band Rough Trade, for example, was known within the homosexual community and by music industry insiders.



Influenced by American pop music, Dusty Springfield created a distinctive white soul sound. Most responses to her voice emphasize her breathy sensuality. Another powerful feature was the sense of loss and heartbreak (e.g., "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" and "Goin' Back"). The uniqueness of Springfield's voice was described by Burt Bacharach as:"You could hear just three notes and you knew it was Dusty." Greil Marcus, a Rolling Stone journalist captured Springfield's way with her lyrics as:"a soft, sensual box (voice) that allowed her to combine syllables until they turned into pure cream." Springfield had a finely tuned musical ear. She sang in a variety of styles, mostly pop, soul, folk, Latin and rock'n'roll. Her repertoire included songs that their writers ordinarily would have offered to black vocalists. She also performed as the only white singer on all-black bills in the 1960s. The soul orientation of her voice was expressed by some African American listeners hearing her for the first time on the radio or on record assuming she was black.

Studio and stage performance

Springfield implored her white British backup musicians to capture the spirit and copy the instrumental playing styles of the black American musicians. In the studio, she was a perfectionist. Her male colleagues who were unused to women taking control in the studio labelled her difficult to work with. She often produced her songs, but could not take credit for doing so, as it was seen as bad form. The fact that she could neither read nor write music made it hard for her to communicate with her session musicians. During her extensive vocal sessions, she repeatedly recorded short phrases and single words. On stage, as the perfect opposite of the character she was in the studio, Springfield developed a joyful dashing image supported by trademark peroxided blonde beehive hairstyle and luscious evening gowns.


Dusty Springfield was one of the best-selling British singers in the 1960s. She was voted the Top British Female Artist by the readers of the New Musical Express in 1964, 1965, and 1968. Of the female singers of the 1960s British Invasion, Springfield made one of the biggest impressions on the American market, scoring 18 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1970. Quentin Tarantino caused a revival of interest towards Dusty Springfield by including her song "Son of a Preacher Man" in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack which sold over three million copies. By the time, she had turned into a camp icon. She is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame. She was placed among the 25 female rock artists of all time by the readers of Mojo magazine (1999), editors of Q magazine (2002), and a panel of artists by VH1 TV channel (2007). In 2008, Dusty appeared on the Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" at number 35.




  1. UK Music Hall of Fame Endemol UK
  2. Mojo
  3. The Lana Sisters
  4. Sharon Mawer. Album chart history. 1964 The official U.K. charts company site
  5. Sanremo 1965 (15a Edizione)
  6. Chareborneranger presents the Billboard Top 100 for 1966
  7. Sharon Mawer. Album chart history. 1965 The official U.K. charts company site
  8. Ready, Steady, Go! Mersey Beat Rock and Pop Memorabilia
  9. Dusty Springfield. Full Circle Documentary film. Vision Records, 1994
  10. Sharon Mawer. Album chart history. 1966 The official U.K. charts company site
  11. The Look of Love Allmusic
  12. Synopsis for Casino Royale (1967)
  13. 1970 Grammy Awards
  14. Dusty Springfield - Son of a Preacher Man Swiss Charts
  15. Chareborneranger presents the Billboard Top 100 for 1969
  16. Elton John Rock On The Net
  17. Entertainment Fans' farewell to Dusty BBC News site
  18. The Wild, the Beautiful and the Rebellious Lesbian News site
  19. Review of Dancing with Demons, "You don't have to say you love me", The Observer, September 3, 2000, Barbara Ellen

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