By Adam Tawfik
Every profession has its obstacles, but few match the challenges of survival in the cutthroat and fickle music industry. Millions of so-called musicians (really glorified noisemakers) have had a one-night stand with fame, but every now and again, there is an artist who has been criminally overlooked and ripe for rediscovery. Dakota Staton definitely falls into that latter category.
While Staton has achieved more than 15-minutes of fame, she has never matched the success of her debut 1957 LP “The Late, Late Show.” While full of pep, “Late Show” only scratches at the surface of Staton’s amazing talents.
Many attribute Staton’s decline in popularity to her conversion to Islam and marriage to the controlling and divisive trumpeter Talib Ahmad Dawud. If this is the case, it is wholly the consumer’s loss as they’ve missed out on an impressive body of work that showcases a powerful, soulful voice that became even better with age. Although she passed away in 2007, her work will live on.
Here are five songs selected to turn you into a diehard Dakota Staton fan.
5. It Could Happen to You
While Staton hadn’t quite developed the huskiness in her voice at this early point in her career, she had vivid, dynamic energy that is fully realized in her rendition of this song (I know the video says it’s “Some Other Spring,” but trust me, it’s not). The album’s title “Dynamic” is fully earned.
Staton effectively delivers a restrained performance on this track, poignantly narrating the tragic saga of a woman who “will go on carrying the torch for Jim,” a ne’er-do-well who doesn’t love her. This is the first time I’ve heard this tune, but it’s becoming one of my favorite heartbreak songs.
3. Young Generation
When Jazz fell out of favor with American audiences’ in the mid-1960s throughout the 1970s, many artists in the field dabbled in R & B, Disco, and/or Pop. Staton is one of the few to satisfyingly crossover, with this 1970 R & B/Funk song as the strongest. It’s intelligent, catchy lyrics and groovy beat (and of course the powerhouse Staton herself) make this song the perfect tribute to the brave young men and women who crusaded the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam protests and fought valiantly for a more equal, just world.
2. I Thought About You
This one is on the list as much for the fact that it’s one of the few pieces of footage of her available on the internet, even if the quality is shoddy. But for the few seconds that the videographer actually films Staton, we get a glimpse of a remarkable diva, with her larger-than-life poodle-esque mane of hair and heavily beaded white blouse and trousers which emphasizes her hefty bosom and voluptuous figure. As always, she goes against the grain in her interpretation of standards making this song, which is normally performed as a languid ballad, a groovy foot-tapper.
1. Mean to Me
I’ve heard this standard serviceably recorded by several other jazz singers, but Staton with her powerful smoky voice and bluesy phrasing imbues a sense of passion and gravitas lacking in other interpretations. This definitely is her best individual performance and possibly one of the best recorded ballads of jazz history.