Legend comes to town for picturesque night
It’s not often when legendary musicians make their way to the Capital City. But when they do – as 72-year-old rhythm and blues legend Ruth Brown did Friday – fans come out in droves.
About 100 fans pored into the Nevada State Library and Archives building to meet with Brown, the subject of a photographic tribute by celebrity photographer Charles Adams, of Zephyr Cove.
The Grammy-winning singer/songwriter was delighted about the event, and more than a little surprised that Carson City officials declared Friday as “Ruth Brown Day.”
“This is quite an honor. At my age, I’ll take any honor that I can get,” Brown said in tongue and cheek fashion, a characteristic that kept her fans rolling throughout the tribute. “This is really wonderful. It’s what I call seeing the flowers. Charles has been a really good friend.”
Adams, whose work as a celebrity photographer spans 25 years, said Brown has not only been a wonderful subject but a truly great friend.
“I’m delighted to say she is truly one of the most pivotal in my life,” Adams said. “I remember when I first saw her perform. I was so stunned that I stopped shooting. She sings with such raw talent and inner soul. When you see her, you feel her through her songs. You know that what she sings comes through what she’s lived.”
Adams’ Nevada State Library and Archives exhibit will run through April 24.
Brown, who received three Grammy nominations this year for her album “A Good Day for the Blues,” made the trip to Carson City after performing a show with Bonnie Raitt in Los Angeles. Brown lives in Henderson.
She said she wasn’t disappointed that she didn’t take home a Grammy this year; however, she was unhappy that she wasn’t reserved a second seat for the presentation.
“I wasn’t about to go without a special somebody I wanted to take,” Brown said. “They wanted $900 for an extra seat. So we stayed home and watched it on TV instead.”
Even though she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Brown acknowledges that her name may not be well known to those not familiar with rhythm and blues music. Until, that is, she tells people she played the part of feisty DJ “Motormouth Maybelle” in the cult-classic John Waters film “Hairspray.”
Brown came on the music scene in 1948 and, from 1951 to 1953, was the biggest selling black female artist for Atlantic Records, who dubbed her “Miss Rhythm.” In the late ’60s and early ’70s, her career stalled, forcing her to make her living driving a school bus. Her good friend Red Foxx brought her back from her retreat, which began a second career renaissance that has yet to let up.
In 1989 she won a Tony award and a Grammy for her stage performance in “Black and Blue.” This year, her song “I Don’t Know” was featured in the Academy-Award nominated movie “The Hurricane.” In the past decade, she has also become the host of two popular National Public Radio shows, “Harlem Hit Parade” and “Blues Stage.”
On hand for Friday’s festivities was singer/songwriter and blues man Pat Best, of Carson City, who worked with Brown in the 1950s. His song “I love You for Sentimental Reasons” is a staple among Ruth Brown concerts.
“Pat, you bring back some pretty fond memories,” Brown said before a film crew that was taping the tribute for a documentary film.
She told a story of a time when they went to a fair in Virginia and how they rode a Ferris Wheel, in which the two got stuck on the top when it supposedly broke down.
“I found out later he paid the guy to keep us stuck there on top,” Brown said.
For Best, the reunion was heartfelt.
“I’m so happy just to be able to see her,” Best said. “You may lose contact, but you never forget the memories.”
Brown said she will keep performing, even though her doctor has told her to slow down. Her spiritual side, she said, keeps her going.
“You realize when you’re working and you walk out on stage, who you are working for,” she said.