A wonderful interpreter of ballads as well as an inveterate swinger, Miss Dakota Staton is one of those singers from the '50s who seems to have fallen through the cracks of time. And while she may not be as widely regarded today as jazz vocal legends like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, the sheer expressive power of her voice is undeniable and her dramatic delivery as compelling as her tough, sassy stage presence.
Born outside of Pittsburgh on June 3, 1930, she began singing and dancing as a child, later attending the Filion School of Music, where she starred in the stage show Fantastic Rhythm. She got her first professional experience in 1948 with local bandleader Joe Wespray and later had a lengthy residency at Detroit's landmark Flame Show Bar. After years of traveling the Midwest club circuit, she settled in New York City and began performing at Harlem's Baby Grand, where she captured the attention of Capitol Records producer Dave Cavanaugh, who signed Staton to the label in 1954. She debuted with the single "What Do You Know About Love?" and a year later was named Most Promising Newcomer for 1955 in Down Beat magazine's Critics Poll. While Staton was certainly comfortable in a jazz setting - she swung confidentially with some of the finest players on the scene - she also had the ability to cross over convincingly into the R&B camp, performing on showcase bills with the likes of Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino during the 1950s. Staton burst onto the scene in 1957 with her first full-length album, The Late, Late Show, which proved to be an enormous crossover hit. She followed up that success with 1958's The Dynamic Dakota Staton!, which scaled the R&B charts and marked the first of many collaborations with arranger Sid Feller.
After marrying trumpeter Talib Ahmad Dawud in 1958, Staton converted to Islam and for a time performed under the name Aliyah Rabia. She was also an active member of Dawud's advocacy group the Muslim Brotherhood, which existed in large part to combat the radical politics of black supremacist Elijah Muhammad. The resulting media attention interrupted Staton's commercial momentum. And though Crazy He Calls Me made an impressive showing on the charts in 1959, it paled in comparison to the crossover success that greeted her previous recordings. After ten recordings with Capitol, she jumped to United Artists for 1963's From Dakota with Love and followed up with Live and Swinging and Dakota Staton with Strings. She did not cut another record for eight years, then mounted a comeback in the 1970s. She performed into the late '90s before suffering a triple aneurysm. Her health was in serious decline for a few years before she finally passed away in 2007.