Forgotten Music: Dakota Staton
Born in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she attended George Westinghouse High School and studied music at the Filion School of Music in Pittsburgh. Later she performed regularly in the Hill District, a jazz hotspot, as a vocalist with the Joe Wespray Orchestra, a popular Pittsburgh orchestra. She next spent several years in the nightclub circuit in such cities as Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis. While in New York, she was noticed singing at a Harlem nightclub called the Baby Grand by Dave Cavanaugh, a producer for Capitol Records. She was signed and released several singles, her success leading her to win Down Beat magazine's "Most Promising New Comer" award in 1955. In 1958, Staton wed Talib Ahmad Dawud, a black Antiguan Muslim trumpeter and noted critic of Elijah Muhammad.
She released several critically acclaimed albums in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including: The Late, Late Show (1957), whose title track was her biggest hit, In the Night (1957), a collaboration with pianist George Shearing, Dynamic! (1958) and Dakota at Storyville (1961), a live album recorded at the Storyville jazz club in Boston. Staton moved to England in the mid-1960s. She continued to record semi-regularly.
Ed here: I've been listening to Dakota since the Fifties. She sang beautifully about nighttime, infusing songs with her own melancholy take on our vale of tears. Two or three times I thought she was ready for the kind of breakout that Dinah Washington enjoyed at the same time. But it wasn't to be. She's well worth listening to.
Sometimes in the 90s somebody wrote me a letter, said they'd read my novel The Autumn Dead and particularly appreciated my riff on Dakota Staton. She said she was a friend of Dakota's and that Dakota was very pleased that I had written about her. Really. Listen to her.