Ruby Johnson Biography

19 April 1936, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, USA, d. 4 July 1999, Lanham, Maryland, USA. To many soul fans, Johnson was chiefly remembered for her wonderful deep-soul Volt recording, ‘I’ll Run Your Hurt Away’, released in March 1966, but some of her other material from the same era confirmed that she was a high-quality soul singer. Although African-American, Johnson was raised in North Carolina in the quasi-Jewish Temple Beth-El faith. One of nine children, she grew up singing a cappella at the local temple, but aspired to emulate the power-soul style of Aretha Franklin and Etta James. After singing with Samuel Latham And The Rhythm Makers at Virginia Beach, she moved to Washington, DC, and became show-opener at the popular Spa Club. Never Duncan, manager of Bobby Parker (of ‘Watch Your Step’ fame), signed her first to the Philadelphia-based V-Tone label (for which Parker was also recording), and then to his own Nebs outlet. Subsequently, ex-Washington disc jockey Al Bell signed Johnson to Stax /Volt when he moved to Memphis in 1965. For Volt, Johnson made several excellent cover versions of other artists’ soul titles, such as Theola Kilgore’s ‘The Love Of My Man’ and Ben E. King’s ‘Don’t Play That Song’. She also recorded songs by in-house Stax writers, including Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Porter’s ‘I’ll Run Your Hurt Away’ is said to have reduced him to tears as he wrote it; at times it appeared that Johnson was so completely immersed in her performance that she might also break down - her rendition of the song represented a mesmerizing masterpiece of soul. Although never a commercial recording artist, Johnson remained a popular club singer until 1974 when she opted out of the ‘disco’ boom to take a regular government job. In 1993, she was employed in Maryland, recruiting volunteers to work with handicapped children.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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