LAS VEGAS, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Ruth Brown, who began a six-decade career by becoming the best-selling black woman singer of the early 1950s, died Friday in Las Vegas at 78.
Brown had been on life support since suffering a stroke Oct. 29, The New York Times reported.
"I can't really say that I've heard anyone that sounds like Ruth, before or after," singer Bonnie Raitt said. "She was a combination of sass and innocence, and she was extremely funky. She could really put it right on the beat, and the tone of her voice was just mighty. And she had a great heart."
Brown was also an activist who convinced her label, Atlantic Records, to forgive the theoretical debts owed by black recording artists and to pay the artists back royalties.
Born Ruth Weston in Portsmouth, Va., Brown began singing at the church where her father was choir director. She made her first Atlantic recording in 1949.
In the 1960s, her career took a dive. She kept singing while also working as a teacher's aide and maid and marrying a police officer, her third husband. In 1976, she began an acting career, when Redd Foxx hired her to play Mahalia Jackson in a musical about the civil rights movement.