While in a wistful mood of late, I’ve been listening to the music of Miss Dinah Washington, who was on her seventh husband when she died of an overdose of alcohol and weight-reduction pills at age 39 – so young.
Dinah had a soft-as-cotton, tough-as-leather sound of someone who had seen more in her 39 years than you or I will ever see.
“You better keep your mouth shut good and tight, ‘cuz my man’s an undertaker, and he’s got a coffin just your size.”
Making $15,000 an appearance in 1948, Dinah bought her mother a home. Then, upon becoming our jukebox queen of the ’50s, she earned a Grammy in 1959 for her stirring rendition of “What a Difference a Day Makes.”
The Dude, Quincy Jones, said about Dinah: “She could take the melody in her hand, hold it like an egg, crack it open, fry it, let it sizzle, reconstruct it, put the egg back in the refrigerator and you would’ve still understood every single syllable.”
And one of her sisters said about Dinah: “A voice like that is a gift from God.”
In 1993 the U.S. Postal Service honored Washington with her own commemorative postage stamp.
But a moment about “Night Train” Lane, Dinah’s seventh husband: He still holds the NFL record for most interceptions in a season, 14. He set that record in his rookie year, 1952, 67 years ago, and that was when they only played 12 games. What a guy. They called him “Night Train” because he was afraid of flying and would take a night train to away games. But he wasn’t afraid of tackling a running back or receiver, and left many of them looking out the ear holes of their helmets.
As a baby, Lane was abandoned by his parents. They wrapped him in a newspaper and deposited him in a Dumpster. He started crying, of course, and, according to Lane, “People thought I was a cat.” He was adopted by Ella Lane, who already had four kids, God bless her. Dick Lane started playing pool when he was old enough and therein gained his first nickname, “Cue Ball.” As Lane told it, “I was in a pool hall in 12th Street. We were playing for money, maybe a dime. As soon as I made the eight ball, the other guy took off running. He didn’t want to pay. I grabbed that cue ball and, just as he made the corner, I threw it. The guy never knew what hit him.”
And Night Train had a sense of humor. I remember reading about him in George Plimpton’s great little book, “Paper Lion.” Apparently, at the Detroit Lion’s college training camp, Night Train parked his Buick in the headmaster’s slot. As the team meeting started the coach asked, “Whose maroon Buick is parked in the headmaster’s slot, because you’re getting fined $50.”
To wit, Night Train raised his hand and asked, “Two-door or four-door?”
About Dinah’s other six husbands, we can talk another time.
McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.