Boston’s Own Toni Lynn Washington Still Going Strong at 80, Celebrating A Life in the Blues
NEWTON, MA: Toni Lynn Washington will be
celebrating A Life in the Blues with a concert featuring Paul Speidel and
Friends on Saturday, April 8th at 7:30pm. It will be held at the Newton City
Hall War Memorial Auditorium, located at 1000 Commonwealth Avenue, Newton
Centre, MA 02459. The concert is all-ages and handicap-accessible. Tickets are
$20/$15/$10 (Adult/Senior/Student) in advance and $25/$20/$15 at the door. On
sale March 1st at:
www.NewtonCommunityPride.org/festival. For more information call
Toni Lynn Washington was born in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and as a little girl she loved nothing better than a chance to sing with her school and church choirs. However, she came into her musical maturity here in Boston, where her family had moved by her early teens. She heard Ruth Brown, who “was a big influence on every girl's life in the '50s," Washington says. Thus inspired, she snuck her way into Boston's club scene and became a local phenom at age 16. "You'd see or open shows for the likes of Otis Redding, and Weepin' Willie. He had just brought in his band from New Jersey, and he was hot. Willie set Boston on fire!"
But, marriage at 18 to a Navy man took her away from her Boston roots and down to New Orleans. Once settled, she befriended, worked with and opened for such blues/soul legends as Big Joe Turner and Bobby “Blue” Bland. She worked regularly in clubs all over New Orleans and soon found herself traveling more and more, singing backup and supporting blues artists including Sam and Dave and Jackie Wilson. Finally, in 1955, a local producer discovered Washington and she made her first recordings, for Kon-Ti (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records). She had moderate success with the single "Dear Diary". But just as her career was looking up, her husband was transferred to California and Washington had to quit the chitlin’ circuit.
Once out west, they started a family; but needing to work, Washington played in cover bands, doing R&B, rock, funk, pop, jazz, whatever helped pay the bills. During the Vietnam War, she worked for the USO in a three-piece vocal group. "It got a little unnerving at times. In Danang, the base was under fire so they put us in an underground bunker. I heard the bombs and the earth shook. I thought I'd never see another day." The closest Washington came to national fame came with a group called Sound 70. Travel with this band took her all over the country and world, and even led to television appearances on such popular shows as those hosted by Steve Allen and Mike Douglas. Yet, in the eight years she worked with Sound 70, Washington became increasingly discouraged. Constant touring took her away from her young family at a time when they needed each other most.
With her professional life seemingly in limbo and now a single mom with few prospects, Washington moved back to Boston in the early 80's and got an office job to provide for her children. “What helped me was that I moved back to bond with my family again. My mother encouraged me a great deal, and so did some of the same musicians I'd known when I lived here in my teens." Reinvigorated by returning to her musical hometown, Washington soon found her way back on the stage. During this period, she performed at virtually every music room in Boston, eventually earning the job fronting Boston Baked Blues. This introduced her to audiences all across the Northeast, and allowed her to finally to embark on a solo career again. Washington began touring Europe annually, performing at prestigious music festivals (which she continues to this day).
Signed in the early 90’s to Tone-Cool Records, Washington finally began to see some reward for her years of effort in the music business. With four CDs under her belt and music used in feature film soundtracks, Washington was eventually nominated for two W.C. Handy Awards, two Contemporary Female Blues Artist of the Year Awards, and six Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year Awards—which she finally won this past year at the 37th Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards in Memphis. She is also the recipient of the Boston Blues Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award. Her fifth CD, “I Wanna Dance” came out last year, and features material she will be presenting at the Life in the Blues concert in Newton.
Guitarist, composer, educator and producer Paul Speidel has been a prominent beacon in Boston's extensive Blues & Jazz scene for more than two decades. His band recently celebrated those years of performing and recording with a series of live events in and around the Boston area including a capacity crowd performance at the renowned Scullers Jazz Club Thanksgiving Eve in 2014, and the Blues Farewell to the closing Johnny D’s in 2015. The EP, “Gratitude” commemorated the anniversary, and was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Speidel and his groups have released nine CDs, with their full-length studio release, “Retrorocket” (2010) receiving three-and-a-half stars in Downbeat Magazine. They have been heard locally on WZLX-FM, WBRS-FM, WMBR-FM and WICN-FM, as well as across the country. Over his years in Boston, Speidel has performed with talent such as Jay Geils, Duke Robillard, Howard Alden, James Montgomery and Shirley Lewis—as well as such blues luminaries as Danny Kalb, Toni Lynn Washington, David Maxwell, Chris Duarte and Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, and many, many others.
Toni Lynn Washington will be celebrating A Life in the Blues with a concert featuring Paul Speidel and Friends on Saturday, April 8th at 7:30pm. It will be held at the Newton City Hall War Memorial Auditorium, located at 1000 Commonwealth Avenue, Newton Centre, MA 02459. The concert is all-ages and handicap-accessible. Tickets are $20/$15/$10 (Adult/Senior/Student) in advance and $25/$20/$15 at the door. On sale March 1st at: www.NewtonCommunityPride.org/festival. For more information call 617-796-1540. This program is part of the Newton Festival of the Arts, sponsored by the Mayor’s Office for Cultural Affairs, and is supported in part by a grant from the Newton Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.