Friday, December 13, 1963 started off like most days in Dinah Washington's life. She woke up being her fabulous self and decided to go shopping for Christmas presents, dropping $2,400 in one store alone. Later that day, a mink-trimmed sofa was scheduled to be delivered to the Buena Vista Ave., home she shared with Dick "Night Train" Lane on Detroit's west side. Her sons, Bobby and George, were to arrive home from a prestigious Michican prep school, and Washington looked forward to a quiet evening at home with family and maybe a friend or two. The friends left, the boys went to bed and the Lane's retired for the evening with the television still running in their bedroom.
Dick woke up around 3:45 a.m., and found Dinah on the floor. He tried to revive her but all she let out was one long last blue moan. Lane called "the doctor" instead of an ambulance, and soon the whole household was upset because they already sensed what the doctor was soon to pronounce: that the Queen had finally abdicated her throne at the age of 39. Sitting over on the nightstand was one glaring object that wasn't there the night before - a brand new, open pill bottle. It wasn't suicide! She had taken just one pill too many.
There were pills to loose weight, pills to gain weight, pills to sleep, pills to wake up, nerve pills - you name it, there was a pill for it and the doctors were only too happy to prescribe them. Dinah Washington had an aversion to the use of street drugs and there are people who want us to know that her drugs were legal drugs as if that makes it any better. Her system finally weakened under the strain. The medical examiner's report showed an excess of barbituates in her blood, more than twice the normal dosages of amobarbital and secobarbital - two different types of sedatives. It is thought Washington took them by mistake because they were not properly identified.
She wanted to be laid to rest in Chicago, her exciting adopted hometown. But that monday after her death, there was a memorial service at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. The Rev. C. L. Franklin handled the services and his daughter Aretha sang a solo as thousands braved the below zero temperatures to pay their last respects. By the time Dinah's body arrived in Chicago to lay in state at the United Funeral Home on Sacramento Blvd., thousands more were gathering. The actual funeral was scheduled for Wednesday, December 18, at 2:00 p.m., at the St. Luke's Baptist Church, seating capacity 600.
By 2:00, literally thousands of people had jam-packed the church. Mourners had to be escorted from the balcony for fear it would collapse. Between the two cities, it is estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 or more people viewed Dinah's body with many more outside freezing in the brutal winter temperatures.
Dinah was laid out in a solid bronze casket wearing a diamond tiara. She was dressed in a yellow chiffon evening dress, a white mink stole, white evening gloves, and her feet were covered in jeweled slippers. (Top, Dinah's father, Ollie Jones says goodbye to his daughter. Below, Dick Lane views his famous wife one last time).
One writer called the funeral a "soul-wrenching, heart-draining, foot-stomping, rocking and shouting going away party." Gospel stars Sallie Martin and then the Roberta Martin Singers rocked the house. Mahalia Jackson (left) sat forlorn and alone & then brought everybody to hysterics during her solo. Clara Ward (ab0ve) had to be restrained in her seat.
There were many celebrities in the church including Ella Fitzgerald, who was spotted in the back of the church with her head hung in grief.
Flamboyant ministers such as the Rev. Clarence Cobb and the infamous Prophet Jones made themselves known in other ways. Fans grabbed for souvenirs and funeral programs while Rev. Clay Evans grabbed the mike and sternly reminded everyone that "THIS IS NOT A SHOW."
Comedian George Kirby was an honorary pallbearer. Slappy White and Redd Foxx helped to carry the casket. Foxx had jokes when his foot slipped and he told the funeral directors to double-check the body because "she's probably laying on her side by now." (L-R, Redd Foxx, Slappy White, Prince Spencer, George Kirby and Herman Roberts.)
Rev. Eugene Ward of the Temple Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH eulogized Dinah and whipped the crowd into an emotional frenzy. It was said that he "screamed, cried, pleaded, jumped and bounced" in his delivery. Three or four hours later, the steps of the church were icy and Dinah's mother had to be helped into her limousine. There were at least 25 Cadillac limousines, and more than 100 other cars in the procession that tied up traffic for 7 blocks. (Dick "Night Train" Lane helps Dinah's mother, Mrs. Alice Jones Kimbrough from the church with Dinah's brother George at her side. Friend and agent, Ruth Bowen is in the white mink hat.)
By the time the funeral was over, the sun had gone down and The Hawk was whipping through the Windy City streets. The mourners finally assembled at Burr Oak Cemetery on the city's southwest side. It was fourteen degrees below zero and well past closing time. Cemetery workers tried and tried again to lower the casket into the open grave but the winch was frozen solid.
Just a few weeks earlier while watching President Kennedy's funeral, Dinah remarked that "nobody will ever see the Queen lowered into the grave like that" and she was right. They had to leave the casket in the snow overnight until the grave attendents could lower the Queen deep into the bitter earth from which she came and often sang of.