Born as Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien on 16 April 1939, Dusty Springfield grew up in Enfield, Middlesex, England (UK) in a family that enjoyed music. She learned to sing at home. In 1958 she joined her first professional group, The Lana Sisters, and two years later formed a pop-folk vocal trio, The Springfields, with her brother Tom Springfield and Tim Field. They became the UK’s top selling act. Her solo career began in 1963 with the upbeat pop hit, ‘I Only Want To Be With You’. Among the hits that followed were ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’?’ (1964), ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself’ (1964), ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ (1966), and ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ (1968).
As a fan of US soul music, she brought many little-known soul singers to the attention of a wider UK record-buying audience by hosting the first national TV performance of many top-selling Motown artists beginning in 1965. Partly owing to these efforts, a year later she eventually became the best-selling female singer in the world and topped a number of popularity polls, including Melody Maker’s Best International Vocalist. She was the first UK singer to top the New Musical Express readers’ poll for Female Singer.
To boost her credibility as a soul artist, Springfield went to Memphis, Tennessee, to record ‘Dusty in Memphis’, an album of pop and soul music with the Atlantic Records main production team. Released in 1969, it has been ranked among the greatest albums of all time by the US magazine Rolling Stone and in polls by VH1 artists, New Musical Express readers, and Channel 4 viewers. The album was also awarded a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Despite its current recognition, the album did not sell well and after its release, Springfield experienced a career slump for several years. None of Springfield’s recordings from 1971 to 1986 charted on the UK Top 40 or Billboard Hot 100.
During live performances in 1979, she performed a cover version of The Man With The Child In His Eyes, adding that she felt that it was “one of the prettiest [songs] ever written, certainly by her”.
In 1987, she recorded a duet with the Pet Shop Boys, called ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’, returning to the top 10 in the UK and US charts. Two years later, she had two other UK hits on her own with ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ and ‘In Private’, both producted by the Pet Shop Boys.
In January 1994, while recording her penultimate album, ‘A Very Fine Love’, in Nashville, Tennessee, Springfield felt ill. When she returned to England a few months later, her physicians diagnosed breast cancer. She received months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment and the cancer was in remission. In 1995, in apparent good health, Springfield set about promoting the album, which was released that year. By mid-1996, the cancer had returned and in spite of vigorous treatments, she died in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire on 2 March 1999.
Springfield’s funeral service was attended by hundreds of fans and people from the music business, including Elvis Costello, Lulu and Pet Shop Boys. It was a Catholic funeral, which took place at the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Henley-on-Thames, where Springfield had lived during her last years.