August 27 marked the anniversary of the birth of the President of the Tenor Saxophone, the great Lester “Pres” Young. Monday, August 29 marked the anniversary of the births of the Yardbird, Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, and the Queen of the Blues, Dinah Washington. While prepping for today’s edition of the Ancient Future radio program on WPFW 89.3 FM in DC – streaming live at www.wpfw.org – I decided to spin some Pres, Bird and Dinah. Taking the easy way out with Dinah I grabbed the excellent Mosaic box set “The Complete Roulette Sessions of Dinah Washington.” As is always the case with Mosaic sets, this one had the characteristic black & white booklet replete with some superb photos of Dinah at recording sessions and in performance. One in particular stood out – Dinah, in full throat at a microphone on a gig, swathed in an elegant mink stole, major big-hair blond wig atop her head. Men of the era of a similar bent would be referred to as a “dandy.” What about women? I can only conjur the contemporary term “Flygirl” to describe Dinah in that photo.
The wig reminded me of a story I heard from an eyewitness sage. One evening in between sets on a gig in Brooklyn, Dinah decided to take a stroll. Encountering an open manhole cover in the middle of an intersection on Flatbush Avenue, Dinah – bold as ever – decided to stride right across the open manhole and keep on stepping. In so doing she spotted workmen down in the hole looking up at her. She admonished them with one of her typical epithets and finished by saying “…you men are certainly no gentlemen…”, to which they hollered back up “…and you’re no blond!”