It can be very difficult to define what it is about someone that makes people refer to them as ‘iconic’ or legendary’.
Many stars come and go; some leave more of a legacy than others. A rare few leave a legacy of on-going devotion in a way that sets them apart as the brightest stars in the heavenly firmament. And Dusty Springfield was such a star.
Dusty died nine years ago (almost to the day) on 2nd March 1999. And yet a look at various album charts in the UK and beyond shows at least eight of her albums are to be found there, one of them at number 2 at the time of writing.
But beyond the music sales, in the case of Dusty, there is something deeper and more profound happening. There is a singular quality about this woman, described as the greatest soul singer this country has ever produced, which makes Dusty’s enduring appeal worthy of a closer look.
I asked some of Dusty’s greatest fans what her appeal was; why she continues to appeal to them and why they maintain their devotion to her, so long after her death; and how they had reacted to the news of Dusty’s death. The responses I received were exceptionally touching, heartfelt, deeply personal and very moving.
Carole responded that - “When I listen to Dusty sing, I get a feeling inside me and it's not something I can explain, it's just a feeling that fills me with awe, devotion, longing, wonder and just about every other emotion you can think of. I've never had it with any other singer, I can like songs and I can like singers, but only Dusty has ever had this effect on me.”
That emotional response seems to be a key part of the answer. Kathy spoke of this when she commented on “Dusty's amazing voice, its power, its depth, its ability to speak right to you and its breathy vulnerability that seems to often echo our own as we go through life. Her interpretation of songs is amazing. I've heard songs that I previously didn't really like sung by Dusty that have blown me away”.
Kathy expanded on this when she pointed out how “Dusty chose songs that speak to people. The words are always meaningful and timeless.. As she was a singer for so long, her choice of songs covers early love experiences and more mature experiences of love, longing, loss, resignation and reflection on life. This accompanies us on our journey through life and so Dusty's music is relevant to all ages”.
Chris echoed this when he wrote - “Dusty’s voice goes right through me. When she sings it feels as if she is living the songs emotions. If that makes sense”.
What Chris said did indeed make sense and was something others had commented on, noting that Dusty was perhaps the greatest ‘interpreter of song’; although she did not write her own songs, she made the emotions they contained her own. Mary, who had the pleasure of meeting Dusty on a Hollywood street in 1967, also touched on this. Speaking of Dusty’s power and appeal, she wrote that it was “her voice. The feeling in it. Every song, she sang with feeling”.
Given the emotional attachment to Dusty’s music and the deep response to the subjects she expressed in her songs, the reactions of the fans to the news of her death was not surprising. Mary expressed a sense of disbelief on hearing the news, which reflected the initial stages of the grieving process described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross when one is touched by close bereavement. “I had to wait till the next day” said Mary, “to see if it was true”.
Many fans commented on experiencing a sense of shock and numbness, again reflecting the emotions felt when someone close dies. “I knew she had been ill but it was still a shock”, wrote Chris. “When clips of Dusty’s funeral were shown later, I had to leave the room” he added.
Clare is a more recent follower of Dusty Springfield. She learned of Dusty’s death only two years ago while watching a musical based on her life, having known nothing about Dusty before then. And yet she said that “I cried like a little girl when I found out in the musical that she died. It was so sad.. I don’t know how I would have coped with it if it happened now. It must have been so hard for everyone.”
Kathy said that “In learning of Dusty's death, I felt a profound sense of loss, of an emptiness in the music industry that can never be filled. And although it is not as strong as when I first heard of Dusty's death, I can still be overwhelmed when hearing her sing”. Kathy also spoke about a collective sense of loss as well as a personal one.
Carole touched on this also, when she wrote - “When she was ill, I felt under a black cloud. I wanted a miracle but it wasn't to be. When she died I can honestly say I was devastated. I lost someone who had been a part of my life, whether she knew it or not, for nearly 40 years. Knowing other people who felt the same helped a lot”.
The words of these people touched me very much and I feel certain that if Dusty were here today, she would be deeply moved to read what people have said about her, to learn what she meant (and continues to mean) to them. Dusty once sang, “Hey, don’t forget about me now, baby” - and in reading the words of some of her fans, it is clear that none of them will.
- Will O'Mailley
My thanks to all those fans who so kindly gave answers to my questions.