Singer and songwriter Albert Washington spent most of his career singing in the blues clubs around Cincinnati, Ohio and his home in Long Island, N.Y. Washington, who is blind, released two recordings for Iris Records in the 1990s, Step It Up and Go in 1993 and A Brighter Day in 1994.
One of four children of Jerry and Helen Washington, Albert's love of blues and gospel made itself known at a very early age. Washington remembers wanting to play his uncle's guitar at age five. At seven, he made his own guitar out of a gasoline can using rubber bands as strings. After losing his father at age nine, Washington got a job washing dishes after school to help his mother with the bills. After moving to Newport, Kentucky with his family while in his teens, Washington was encouraged by his mother to continue his gospel singing, but not his blues singing. At 16, he joined the Gospelaires, then recording for Don Robey's Duke and Peacock labels out of Houston. A few years later, he formed his own gospel group, the Washington Singers. In his late teens, Washington would sneak into blues clubs in nearby Cincinnati every chance he had, and there he was first exposed to the music of artists like Sam Cooke, Big Maybelle, Charles Brown, and Amos Milburn.
Washington cited B.B. King as most influential on his style of singing and guitar playing, which was heavily sprinkled with his gospel singing roots. Shortly after his mother died, he began singing blues as often as he could at the Vet's Inn in Cincinnati, where he worked with a house band for 16 years. In 1962, he recorded his first single for the Finch label in Cincinnati, and it was later released on the Bluestown label. His 1964 singles for the VLM label, including a song he wrote called "Haven't Got a Friend,'' got him noticed in England, and this in turn led to a deal with Fraternity Records in 1966. Lonnie Mack joined Washington on several singles for Fraternity recorded in 1969. In 1970, he recorded two singles for the Jewel label before finally recording his first LP for the Detroit-based Eastbound Records in 1972.
Because of complications from diabetes, Washington lost his sight, and his career fell into a trough from the mid-'70s to the early '90s.
But despite the crippling effects of diabetes and the tragedies that befell him over the course of his life, Washington remained an upbeat, positive figure.
In January, 1993, Long Island-based Iris Records released his first recording in two decades, Step It Up and Go. He began touring regionally again, and frequented clubs in Long Island. His 1994 follow-up album, A Brighter Day, was named one of the top three blues recordings of 1994 by France's Academie Du Jazz. Washington continued to perform in blues clubs around Long Island prior to dying of complications from diabetes on October 23, 1998. ~ Richard Skelly