Enter a city or US Zip  
Washington DC's Weather
VOL 3. NO. 15 Friday, March 30 - Thursday, April 12, 2001
Dinah Was Takes Center Stage

Courtesy Photo, E. Faye Butler as Dinah Washington

Last year "Dinah Was" had an extremely successful run at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Then Metro Connection had an opportunity to speak with E. Faye Butler, then the star of the show, about the woman behind the production, Dinah Washington.

From all reports Dinah Washington was one "bad" sister. As a performer she captivated audiences both black and white with a diverse repertoire that included jazz, blues, R&B and even light pop music. In her personal life and even on stage she was unabashed with her opinions and she was fiercely passionate in all that she did. E. Faye Butler captures the intensity of this legendary singer in {Dinah Was} now playing at Center Stage, March 30-May 13, 2001.} She gives a no holds barred electrifying performance that immerses you in the complex world that defined Washington's life.

"It was man's world and women for the most part were merely singers with the band. They weren't musicians and they didn't necessarily have to be so talented, they had to be pretty and sing pretty. And then they were expected to shut up and they definitely didn't get paid as much," Butler explained. "And they had to work around men who talked the way they wanted to talk and they treated women they way they wanted to treat them."

Washington was unique among women of song like Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. She was dissatisfied with simply being the girl fronting the band, she wanted to be in control so she left Lionel Hampton's Band and dared to strike out on her own.

"Dinah was truly special because she set out to do what everybody told her she couldn't do, she didn't allow herself to be controlled by their expectations," said Butler.

Washington had nothing to loose. Unlike Horne and Dandridge she wasn't considered one of the "pretty" girls. Movies weren't being written to include this dark skinned bawdy woman who was heavy set, had full features, nappy hair and who couldn't pass the brown paper bag test. "She had everything that they thought was negative in a black woman so Dinah choose to fight her way through and the only way she could do that was to be her own boss," said Butler.

And it was very hard. While she found success on the music charts and was able to launch her own record company and booking agency, she remained personally dissatisfied with herself. She tried to control her weight and back then as now, there were all kinds of potions, pills and operations available to give women the illusion that they could be instantly thin.

Despite her personal insecurities, "For black women of darker hue, Dinah epitomized the fact that we too could do it, we could have mink coats, we could have diamond rings and we could wear alligator skin shoes with style. She was a pioneer doing things that popular media didn't show dark skin black women doing, things that we could only dream about," said Butler.

Washington's bravado and tough exterior hid the vulnerable woman inside. "With everything I had heard about her, her great generosity really, really surprised me. If she really cared about you there was nothing too great for her to do for you. Which sometimes was too much for some people," said Butler. However, if she thought anybody wasn't going to love her she cut them off before they cut her off all in an effort to protect herself. "It was all about self preservation for Dinah. But she so desperately needed to feel loved and was so concerned with everything and everyone else loving her and being everything to everyone else that she forgot to love herself," explained Butler.

Washington's life exposes a very passionate person; when she did something she did it all the way. She was an extremist. It was hell or holiness with Dinah. There was no gray area. Butler admits that she had some fear in assuming the role of such a strong personality. "Yes I was fearful because it's one of those roles that you do and if you do it well you can get pigeonholed and people may only see me as Dinah. But that's cool because it is such a great role, such a great body of work."

After a year in the role, Butler has successfully and effectively imbued it with subtle physical and vocal nuances that capture the essence of Washington without being an imitation. "I never even tried to be Dinah Washington or to sound like her. I knew diction was important to her so I worked on diction as oppose to working on her sound. I knew that she always wore four-inch heels and she never went anywhere without her nails done and she loved red lipsticks," shared Butler. "Remembering and incorporating those basic things brought her closer to me. Then when you blend that in with the emotions of the person she was and the things she had to go through during that period, it all falls in line."

Butler also informed that doing the play has taught her much about herself. "Dinah Washington gives you the ability to know that you can free yourself and you can be and do whatever you want to do. And if she can do all that she did in the 40s and 50s in 2000 there is no reason we shouldn't achieve the things we want." For ticket and information about the Baltimore production of {Dinah Was} call Center Stage's Box office at 410-332-0033.

SIGN UP NOW! FREE Metro Connection email newsletter.

Welcome Calendar Connection What's Up?/Story Ideas/Events Classified Ads Best Black Web Sites Business Services Including our Ujamaa Black Business Directory Our Print Edition Our Advertising Media Kit Contact Us/Feedback Form