Two of the biggest stars of the 1950s and 1960s were Brook Benton and Dinah Washington. Benton, who grew up in South Carolina, had Top 10 hits with songs like “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” “So Many Ways, “Kiddio,” and “The Boll Weevil Song.” Washington, from Alabama, scored with songs like “I Wanna Be Loved,” “Teach Me Tonight,” “Unforgettable,” and her Top 10 smash “What a Difference a Day Makes.”
In 1960, Benton and Washington collaborated for the first time on a song written by Benton along with Clyde Otis and Murray Stein. “Baby (You’ve Got What it Takes)” raced up the Pop chart to #5, and reached #1 on the R&B chart. The record remained atop the chart for a remarkable ten weeks and became one of the biggest R&B songs to be released in the 1960s. The song itself had an even longer history, spawning cover versions by duos like Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis, Kevin Mahogany and Jeanie Bryson, Martha Davis and Ivan Neville, Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis, Charlie Louvin and Melba Montgomery, and Nellie McKay and Taj Mahal.
Benton and Washington weren’t done as a duo, however. Also in 1960 the pair released “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love).” The song, also written by Benton and Otis, along with Luchi de Jesus, was initially recorded by Priscilla Bowman two years earlier. Bowman was backed by noted doo wop group the Spaniels on the record. Like “Baby (You’ve Got What it Takes),” “A Rockin’ Good Way” shot to the top of the R&B chart, and was a Top 10 Pop hit. In 1983, Shakin’ Stevens and Bonnie Tyler had a U.K. hit with their cover of the song.
Benton’s chart career cooled a bit after his two hit duets with Washington but he came roaring back in 1970 with his #4 smash “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Unfortunately, it was his last big hit, and he passed away in 1988.
1960 was a huge year for Washington. In addition to the two hits with Benton, she scored a #24 hit that year with “This Bitter Earth,” and reached #30 with “Love Walked In.” The following year, “September in the Rain” ran up the Pop chart to #23. With the exception of “Where Are You?” which reached #36 in 1962, Washington’s days on the upper reaches of the charts were over. A year later, at the age of 39, she was dead as a result of a drug overdose.