Who Was Dusty Springfield?
Dusty Springfield made her way into the heart of 1960s swinging London with the British trio The Springfields. Her solo hits include "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (1966) and "Son of a Preacher Man" (1969). After a bout with drugs and alcohol, she saw her career resurrected with the 1987 Pet Shop Boys song "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" and the soundtrack to the 1988 film Scandal.
A British singer whose style and husky voice emulated the Motown sounds she adored, Dusty Springfield was born Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien on April 16, 1939, in London, England.
Her love of music came early. At a young age, she teamed up with her older brother Dion, singing with him in their parents' garage. They liked to record their collaboration and by the late 1950s had started performing together in front of live audiences.
In the early 1960s, after briefly joining a cabaret act called the Lana Sisters, Mary reunited with her brother to form a new group, The Springfields. Dion had started working with another vocalist, Tim Field, and inspired by his last name, the trio took on the name, The Springfields. In addition, the siblings adopted stage names for themselves. Mary came to be known as Dusty Springfield, and her brother as Tom Springfield.
The group's style, folksy with the kind of poppy sound that would later drive Beatlemania, hit at just the right time. The Springfields recorded several Top Five British hits, such as "Island of Dreams" (1962) and "Say I Won't Be There" (1963). They even enjoyed some American notice—something rare for British groups at that point—with the 1962 release of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," which reached No. 20 on the U.S. charts.
In late 1963, The Springfields disbanded, allowing Springfield to launch a successful solo career. Over the next half-decade, Springfield was a fixture on the pop charts. The run of success began just months after The Springfields ended, with the January 1964 hit "I Only Want to Be With You," which reached No. 4 in the U.K. and No. 12 in the U.S.
Between 1965 and 1968 Springfield churned out a number of hits, including "Some of Your Lovin'," "Little by Little," and the highly successful "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me."
The pinnacle of her success came in 1968 with her album Dusty in Memphis, on which the singer, who'd long adored singers like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin, worked with legendary music producer Jerry Wexler, the man behind albums by Franklin and Ray Charles.
"I was deeply influenced by Black singers from the early 1960s," she once said. "I liked everybody at Motown and most of the Stax artists. I really wanted to be Mavis Staples. What they shared in common was a kind of strength I didn't hear on English radio."
Dusty in Memphis was a tremendous success. Anchored by one of Springfield's biggest hits, "Son of a Preacher Man," it climbed to No. 10 on the U.S. charts. In 1994 that song received a second round of popularity when it became one of the featured songs in the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction.
Springfield's career following Dusty in Memphis proved inconsistent. Long fascinated by the United States and a bit of a Civil War geek, she moved to America in 1970. But her life only took on more struggles in her new home. Beset by drug issues and other personal problems, Springfield failed to capture the run of stardom she'd once enjoyed.
She did continue to record, and there were some isolated moments of success. In 1987 a whole new generation of music fans got to know her when she teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys for the single "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Two years later, she again earned some radio airplay with the song "Nothing Has Been Prove" for the movie Scandal.
Final Years and Death
Springfield, who returned to England in the early 1990s, released her final studio album, A Very Fine Love, in 1995. That same year, she was diagnosed with cancer. From there on out, health problems were a constant in her life.
Still, her final years introduced a renewed interest in her work and career. In 1997, Mercury Records issued a 3-CD set, The Dusty Springfield Anthology Collection. Two years later, Rhino Records released a special edition of Dusty in Memphis.
In 1999 Springfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She passed away the following year from cancer, on March 2, 1999.