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Moments before Toni Lynn Washington takes the stage, you might see what appears to be a quiet, unassuming woman standing patiently out of the spotlight. But look quickly, because once the music starts, four decades of performing will kick into gear, and she'll soon take control of the room like a pool shark running the table.
Special performers are gifted with the innate ability to throw that "switch." You know, that ignition of performance and presence that lets you leave your troubles behind, and immerse yourself in the sheer joy of sharing that comes from giving one's self over to the music. Toni Lynn Washington is just such an artist.
Her youth was spent in Southern Pines, North Carolina where she loved nothing better than a chance to sing with her school and church choirs. Her education in the language and lifestyle of music continued when her family moved to Boston, where she finished her formal education and went about building a career that has taken her through more cities, states and countries than she'd care to remember.
Toni Lynn Washington first took the stage in Boston where, after sneaking past the door of as many clubs as she could (being underage at the time), she was soon wowing musicians and audiences all over the city. She had, of course, been doing this for quite some time, until one fateful night, when she proceeded to bring the house down with her performance of Ruth Brown's "5, 10, 15 (Hours Of Your Love)." Only this time, Mom was in the house! But the "buzz" had already begun.
Marriage at 18, to a military man, soon found our heroine in New Orleans. Once settled, she befriended, worked with and opened for such blues/soul legends as Jackie Wilson, Johnny Adams, Big Joe Turner, Sam and Dave and Bobby "Blue" Bland. She worked regularly in clubs all over New Orleans and soon found herself traveling more and more.
Her early recordings for Kon-Tiki (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records) produced the moderately successful single "Dear Diary" and a truly heartfelt version of the ballad "Satisfaction." Interestingly, the "B" side to "Satisfaction" was an early version of "Good Things," which forty years later is the title track of her latest Tone Cool CD. A military transfer brought her young family to a still-segregated Pensacola, Florida, far from her Crescent City ties. She managed to find a few regional bookings, which would not take her away from her family for too long. And she actually fronted a 35 piece, Military Band that performed at many high-profile events and eventually led to a few USO tours.
A few moves and a few groups later, Toni Lynn Washington found herself in Hollywood. Almost immediately upon her arrival, she secured representation, and became the sole female in a Fifth Dimension-esque group called Sound 70 (The Sounds of the Seventies). Travel with this band took her all over the country and world, and even led to television appearances on such popular shows as those hosted by the likes of Steve Allen and Mike Douglas.
Yet, in the eight years she worked with them, Toni became increasingly discouraged. Constant touring took her away from her young family at a time when they probably needed each other most. It also removed her from the Hollywood base that might have garnered more opportunities for her, yet ultimately yielded just one unreleased pop record. The breakup of Sound 70, a move to the East Coast and a short stint with some ex-Raelettes solidified her disenchantment. She felt there was no real future for her, no "big time," like the friends she had left behind in New Orleans were beginning to experience in the burgeoning Soul and R&B genres.
With her professional life seemingly in limbo, and no upswing in sight, she moved back to Boston in the early 80's and got a 9-to-5 office job so that she could provide for her family. The need to entertain was not out of her system, of course, and she sat in with a number of local artists, including jazz vocalist Eula Lawrence, who was moved by her remarkably emotive voice, and wondered where this talent had been hiding herself?
Compliments and mutual respect became introductions, which soon yielded more and more freelance work with local jazz groups whenever the opportunity arose. During this period, Toni Lynn Washington performed at virtually every music room in Boston. But the yearning to perform her own songs in her own style was growing greater. Toni soon gained the opportunity to sing the blues she so loved, as front woman of Boston Baked Blues. This provided her introduction to blues audiences all over the Northeast, and she was warmly embraced by players and listeners alike. Musically, things were starting to feel like home again.
After a few successful years with BBB, Toni began to feel the need for a change. Her creative juices were flowing again, and she wanted more of an opportunity to write and collaborate. She needed to sing songs that she chose herself and were arranged for her. It was time for her to, once again, chase her dream. She made the break, with no ill will, from Boston Baked Blues, and with the help of BBB band mate Bruce Bears as her musical director and keyboardist, she formed her own band. She and Bruce called upon members of Boston's richly talented music scene for players, and approached musicians who seemed most likely to "get her to" the sound she wanted.
Toni Lynn's career has blossomed. Signed to Richard Rosenblatt's Tone-Cool Records, she has begun to see some reward for her efforts. She's been nominated for two W.C. Handy Awards, had her music used in feature film soundtracks, and appeared on National Public Radio in the company of Etta James and John Lee Hooker. She recorded a performance for broadcast on Voice Of America. Toni has enjoyed increasing acclaim and notoriety.
Toni Lynn Washington has risen admirably to her self-imposed challenge. She has been a featured artist at a number of prestigious festivals. Literally hours after being awarded the 1999 Boston Blues Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award this past September, Toni and her band embarked on a two-week engagement at the prestigious Lionel Hampton Jazz Club at Le Meridien Etoile in Paris. Undaunted by any language barrier, she decisively won over the crowds which grew to and beyond capacity each night, as word of this remarkable talent spread throughout the region.
She has learned much in this time of development. She surrounds herself creatively, musically and in areas of business with professionals who understand and share her dream. The musicians in the Toni Lynn Washington Band have brought formidable songwriting, uncanny arranging and sizzling performances that meld brilliantly on the canvas that is the vocal masterpiece she creates.
It's been quite a ride! In this era of 'here today, gone tomorrow', she has persevered and proven that you can make your dreams come true. As her mother told her a long time ago, "Good Things Come To Those Who Wait." As for Toni Lynn Washington, critics and fans alike will attest, there are nothing but Good Things in store for this lovely lady and gifted artist!
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