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Rhythm Revue Spotlight on Sue Records and the underrated R&B singer Baby Washington

Although Motown became the best-known Black-owned record label in the ‘60s, it wasn't the first in the rock'n'roll era. Black-owned companies that preceded Motown included Vee-Jay in Gary, Indiana, founded by husband-and-wife Vivian Carter and James Blunt. Veejay opened for business in 1953 and had their first success with a local Gary, Indiana vocal group called the Spaniels, a group that featured the legendary lead singer, James “Pookie” Hudson.

Another Black-owned recording company that started operating in the ‘50s was Sue Records in New York. Sue was co-founded in 1957 by Henry “Juggy” Murray and an established music entrepreneur from Harlem named Bobby Robinson. Sue Records had a number of successful R&B hits their first few years in operation, including “Itchy Twitchy Feeling” by Bobby Hendricks, a former member of the Drifters.

Itchy Twitchy Feeling

Later hits on Sue included “Mockingbird” by Inez and Charlie Foxx, and a number of the first releases by the label's most successful signing, Ike and Tina Turner.

Sue Records became the home of a local Harlem singer who had previously cut some New York area hits including “The Time.” Justine “Baby” Washington was born November 13, 1940, in South Carolina and grew up in Harlem. She sang with a local all-female vocal group called The Hearts, who scored a hit with “Lonely Nights” in 1955.

After singing with The Hearts and another group called The Jaynetts, Baby Washington went solo and eventually signed with Sue Records in 1962. It was at Sue that she had her biggest hit, 1963's “That’s How Heartaches Are Made.”

That's How Heartaches Are Made

Many hit singles followed for Baby Washington, including “Only Those In Love,” a Billboard Top 10 R&B record in 1965.

Only Those In Love

Baby Washington never had a big crossover pop hit, but she's widely recognized and respected as a major contributor to the New York City soul sound. The UK singer Dusty Springfield called Baby Washington her favorite singer and covered many of her songs. Baby Washington was one of many artists featured in a short-lived series of live concert performances produced by Rhythm Revue in the ‘90s, a series that also included Carla Thomas, The Persuasions, William Bell, and Ruth Brown.

Happy Birthday, Baby Washington!

Listen, above.

Recommended tracks

“The Time”
“Nobody Cares”
“That's How Heartaches Are Made”
“I Can't See Until I See My Baby”
“There He Is”

The Time

 Deep cut

“Forever” (with Don Gardner)




Felix Hernandez started his career as a producer and radio journalist while in college. In the 1980’s, Felix independently produced the award-winning radio series BluesStage, which had a 6 year run on over 200 NPR stations. He also worked extensively as a journalist with WBEZ in Chicago, and NPR.