When I hear a Dinah Washington track, I hear my aunties.
Many are no longer here with us, but I can plainly hear their voices, those voices that so often sounded like the phrases of music. The stories that told, and then did not tell, all, that entertained and teased and cajoled. Those long exclamations, fantastic proclamations, deep hurts and then resounding happiness, sometimes just moments apart. Singing in their way of speaking that healed and softened, that gave advice — solicited or not — that taught and warned. Voices that had the same effect as a wagging finger or a winking eye. Lips that pursed as if to kiss. They riffed and improvised, told it like it was and like it is. There was sometimes crying, all-out, drop-down, big-time wailing and right there, or other times muffled and sobbing soon to be taken up and played or riffed with by another as deflection or to try to distract to soothe.
It was unmistakably their own kind of harmony. All of it strong and determined, to be feared and at once respected and taken directly to the heart and not toyed with. Saying all that they had to say by saying it loud and always proud. They were never ever ashamed or demure. Like jazz, they spoke and told the notes to you. Dinah Washington sang it proud and directly to the heart — she told the notes to you.