The explanations for Dusty’s immense musical ability are manifold. Dusty’s upbringing was one with a Father who loved classical music and jazz, beating out rhythms on the back of her hand, encouraging the young Dusty to guess the musical piece. She was surrounded with jazz and blues and Dusty was bought up listening to a wide range of music. Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller, among others.
Dusty’s father’s love of jazz led Dusty to a fascination and admiration for the voice of Peggy Lee, with a desire to be and sound like her. Together with this desire was a growing sense of destiny, Dusty had this inner sense that something was going to happen to her although at this time she had no idea what fortunes were in store. These musical foundations were going to prove a rich and rewarding resource. Couple this with a mother who just loved to take Dusty to the movies at any and every opportunity and we discover an appreciation of the arts that was as wide as it was broad being laid at a very early age.
Dusty was born Mary O'Brien in London, 1939. The environment in which she grew up was emotionally unstable. Her parents’ relationship was not happy, and as such was unable to provide the emotional security that a young child requires whilst developing. She also felt inferior to her brother Dion (later to become Tom Springfield) and was constantly comparing herself to him. This emotional instability, and longing for perfection, was something that was going to follow Dusty, and something that was going to be reflected in her music.
Dusty's training ground was as part of a female trio called The Lana Sisters. She responded to an advertisement for a third member to join an “established sister act” and was accepted. Here she developed the art of harmonizing, learned microphone technique, recorded, did some television and played live both in the UK and at American Air Bases.
By the time that Dusty was to become part of The Springfields, she was the only member that had ever sung on stage. The Springfields were successful on both sides of the Atlantic, recording commercial folk music. The Springfields were becoming increasingly caught between the tensions of pop and folk and Dusty finally left the trio in 1963.
Dusty was now free to explore her love of American Black music and her first solo single in 1963, “I Only Want To Be With You” achieved gold status in the UK, as well as being a major hit in the USA, and began to reveal the link between soul and pop that Dusty was to make her own.
The first album A Girl Called Dusty revealed the R&B love affair that Dusty enjoyed, producing a raw sound that enabled deeper exploration that singles unashamedly aimed at the commercial market perhaps could not provide.
Hits flowed from here on in, the follow up single “Stay Awhile” peaked at number 13 and the third single “I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself” hit number 3, with only The Rolling Stones and The Beatles beating her to the top spot. Dusty was on a roller coaster of success, and from 1963 to 1969 she made the UK chart seventeen times, scoring ten Top Ten singles, her biggest being “You Don't Have To Say You Love Me” which hit the number one spot in 1966, (number 4 in the USA) and remained on the UK chart for thirteen weeks.
The album work that accompanied the hit singles demonstrated that Dusty's musical leanings were towards the R&B sound, and that she had a voice that was almost too black to be white. She was a white woman who sang black music, indeed Cliff Richard somewhat dubiously labelled her “The White Negress”. Albums such as A Girl Called Dusty (1964), Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty (1965), Where Am I Going (1967) and Dusty Definitely (1968) all reveal an artist at work, evolving, experimenting and developing. Dusty continued this evolutionary process throughout her career.
Dusty's huge recording success in the 1960's was coupled with exhausting tours, where she would always find time to sign autographs for fans. She gave outstanding international performances, such as at The Fox Theatre, Brooklyn, where she met her Motown idols and cemented personal friendships with many of them. Such was her love of and devotion to the sound of Motown that Dusty became a European pioneer, hosting the Ready Steady Go Motown Special on UK television.
Dusty would leap onto the stage, providing a full range of her material, from her up-tempo numbers through to her heart rending ballads. Dusty's performances were always intimate moments with her audience, she would pour her heart out in her songs and they returned the favour by singing along and an enduring relationship was established.
Throughout the sixties Dusty was honoured with numerous awards. The New Musical Express voted her the Top World Female Artist on more than one occasion, and she celebrated this with a dazzling performance at the NME Poll Winners concert at Wembly Pool. She earned credibility as an artist and performer that was to remain with her for the rest of her career, being adored by her fans and respected and admired by her peers.
By the time Dusty was recording Dusty in Memphis in 1969, she was taking her voice to a new place. Gone were the loud drums and the Spectoresque production sound, and from Memphis onwards her voice took centre stage.
Switching from Philips to Atlantic records, Dusty delivered an album that showcased her soulful attributes like never before, featuring material from the likes of Randy Newman, Goffin & King and Bacharach-David. It is now widely acknowledged as being one of the greatest albums of the decade, producing the massive selling single ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’, which hit number 9 in the UK and number 10 in the USA in December 1968.
Dusty continued to record in the 1970’s, releasing From Dusty With Love (Brand New Me in the USA) (1970), See All Her Faces (1972) and Cameo (1973). In 1974 Dusty began work on an album with the working title Elements, which was then renamed Longing.
Dusty recorded and performed steadily through the 1980’s and 90’s until her death from cancer in 1999.