R&B diva Damita Jo remains best known for the million-selling 1960 smash "I'll Save the Last Dance for You," her ingenious riposte to the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me." Born Damita Jo DuBlanc in Austin, TX, on August 5, 1930, she grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, and with the backing of pioneering Los Angeles disc jockey Joe Adams landed a two-month residency at the local Club Oasis in 1949. When Adams was appointed to head up Discovery Records' R&B operations, he made Damita Jo one of his first signings and in 1950 produced her debut single "Until the Real Thing Comes Along." Discovery proved short-lived, however, and after another little-noticed solo effort, the Recorded in Hollywood release "How Can I Live"; in late 1951 she joined the venerable Los Angeles R&B group Steve Gibson & the Red Caps, making her recorded debut on their single "I'm to Blame." Damita Jo was not only the featured vocalist on the Red Caps' 1952 hit "I Went to Your Wedding," but two years later became Gibson's wife. As the group's fortunes floundered, so did their marriage, and in 1959 she split from Gibson both personally and professionally.
Signed to Mercury Records by producer Shelby Singleton, Damita Jo supported her Steve Allen-penned debut single "It Takes a Little Loneliness" with an appearance on Allen's late-night television showcase -- despite the publicity the record was not a hit, but she scored a Top 20 R&B smash with the sumptuous follow-up "I'll Save the Last Dance for You," written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. With 1961's "I'll Be There," an answer song to Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," Damita Jo reached number 12 on the Billboard pop charts, but subsequent singles like "I Had Someone Else Before I Had You" and "I'll Get Along Somehow" stalled, and in the wake of the 1962 live LP Damita Jo at the Diplomat, Mercury terminated her contract.
Upon signing to Epic, she scored a minor chart entry with 1965's "If You Go Away," but her career again waned, and after issuing 1968's Miss Damita Jo on the tiny Ranwood label, she focused on the supper-club circuit, later incorporating a comedy routine into her musical act. In 1977 she toured with standup comedian Redd Foxx, and also played Atlantic City in support of Ray Charles, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton. Following a 1984 Atlantic City residency in support of Joey Bishop, Damita Jo announced her retreat from secular R&B, performing contemporary gospel for the remainder of her career. After a long battle with respiratory illness, Damita Jo died on Christmas Day 1998 at the age of 68. ~ Jason Ankeny
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