AUBURN – Moments before Toni Lynn Washington takes the stage, you might see what appears to be a quiet, unassuming woman standing patiently out of the spotlight. But look quickly because once the music starts, she will take command of the room.

Washington, who has been nominated for two W.C. Handy Awards, will perform at the Midnight Blues Club and Restaurant Sunday, June 26, as part of the club’s 2005 Sunday Night Blues Series. She has also had her music used in feature film soundtracks and has appeared on National Public Radio with blues legends Etta James and the late John Lee Hooker.

Washington spent her youth in Southern Pines, N.C., where she enjoyed singing with her school and church choirs. Her education in the language and lifestyle of music continued when her family moved to Boston. It was there that she had her first opportunity to take the stage, and it wasn’t long before she was thrilling audiences and musicians alike all over the city.

Washington married a military man at age 18 and moved from Boston to New Orleans. After getting settled, she worked with and opened for such blues legends as Jackie Wilson, Johnny Adams, Big Joe Turner and Bobby “Blue” Bland.

Her early recordings for the Kon-Tiki label, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, produced the moderately successful single “Dear Diary” and a heartfelt version of the ballad “Satisfaction.” As a note of interest, the “B” side of “Satisfaction” was an early version of “Good Things,” which, 40 years later, is the title track of her latest CD on the Tone-Cool label.

A military transfer brought Washington’s young family to a still-segregated Pensacola, Fla., far from her Crescent City ties. She managed to find a few regional bookings, gigs that wouldn’t take her too far from her family for too long. She fronted a 35-piece military band that performed at several high-profile events, which eventually led to a few USO tours.

A few moves and groups later, Washington found herself in Hollywood. Shortly after her arrival, she secured representation and became the sole female in a group called Sound 70. Travel with this band took her all over the country and world, eventually leading to television appearances. Yet the band had its troubles, and constant travel was getting her down.

The breakup of Sound 70, a move to the East Coast and struggles to find work further added to her disenchantment. With her professional life seemingly in limbo, she moved back to Boston in the early 1980s and took a 9-to-5 office job. Yet the need to entertain was not out of her system.

The opportunity Washington needed came when she joined a band called Boston Baked Blues. This introduced her to blues audiences all over the Northeast, where she was warmly embraced by players and listeners alike.

Washington’s career has blossomed in the last decade. Now signed with the respected Tone-Cool label, she has begun to see rewards for her efforts. She received the Boston Blues Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, and now has blues fans worldwide.


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