November 28, 2007


Dakota Staton was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 3, 1931. Although hers was not a musical family, Dakota claims to have known from early on that performing was her destiny. "When I was four years old, I started singing and dancing like Shirley Temple," she recalled in a recent interview. Staton further developed these budding abilities at Pittsburgh’s Filion School of Music. "When I was sixteen, I was in a stage show called Fantastic Rhythm. From that show, I was chosen to be a vocalist with the top band in the Pittsburgh area, Joe Wespray and his orchestra.
I sang with him for two years. Then I went to Detroit, Michigan, and worked in all the show bars there.." While in Detroit, Staton made a particularly strong impression at The Flame Show Bar. From there, she followed a nightclub circuit that led as far afield as Toronto and Montreal in Canada before returning stateside and passing through Indianapolis; Minneapolis; Cleveland and St. Louis before eventually winding it’s way to New York.

It was while singing in a Harlem nightclub called the Baby Grand that Staton was discovered by Capitol producer Dave Cavanaugh and signed to the label. "My first record was a single release on Capitol in 1954," she recalls. "It was called ‘What Do You Know About Love?’ and on the other side was ‘You’re My Heart’s Delight’. Staton attracted enough attention to win the prestigious Down Beat award for the most promising new comer of the year 1955. Although at this point there was still enough of an R&B tinge to her presentation to merit her inclusion, along with the likes of Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino, in fabled disc jockey Alan Freed’s first New York area Rock ‘n’ Roll party stage shows at the St. Nicholas arena, she was rapidly evolving into the dynamic, jazz based stylist whose debut Capitol album, ‘The Late, Late Show’ (1958) would quickly rise to #4 in the album charts. Staton freely admits that Dinah Washington was both a personal favorite and an important stylistic influence, and deep impression she made on Dakota is evident from the first album and throughout all her subsequent recorded work.

For her second Capitol effort, "Dynamic!’ (1958), which reached #22 in the album charts later that year, Cavanaugh turned the musical reins over to a close friend, the gifted arranger and conductor Sid Feller, with whom Staton was to enjoy a long and fruitful collaboration. Feller had arranged for Jack Teagarden’s big band before a hitch in the Army during World War II, and in 1951 he began a longtime association with Cavanaugh and Capitol records (Feller later moved on to the ABC label where he began arranging and conducting for Ray Charles, a pursuit that would occupy him for over thirty years). "I remember when Dave drove me down to a nightclub in Philadelphia to meet Dakota Staton," recalled Feller recently. "When she opened her mouth to sing and I heard that voice, I was overwhelmed. I thought she was just a marvelous singer.

She’s very underrated." "I don’t think that Dakota ever got the breaks she deserved that would’ve helped her become a major pop singer, but I know she’s always been very well respected in the jazz community." Regrettably, Feller’s assessment of Staton’s career development has the ring of truth about it. A wonderfully gifted singer with a thorough grounding in jazz, Staton was always oriented toward albums and never enjoyed the hit single that might have broadened her appeal to a larger market. This, coupled with the fact that she first arrived on the scene after the rock and roll revolution had altered the game rules of popular music forever, has to a degree robbed Dakota of the widespread name recognition she so richly deserves.

Dakota Staton crossed over on April 14, 2007

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