A key figure in rhythm and blues looks back on her turbulent past with the help of film journalist Yule (The Man Who ""Framed"" the Beatles, 1994, etc.). Ruth Brown, born in 1928, was the oldest of seven kids, raised in Portsmouth, Va., by her mother, a domestic, and her father, a day laborer. From childhood she harbored dreams of being a professional singer, dreams that her religious but hard-drinking father adamantly opposed. In adolescence, Brown managed to begin a singing career on the sly, even sneaking off to New York, where she won the talent contest at the Apollo Theater's legendary amateur night. But until she met Blanche Calloway (Cab's sister and an ex-bandleader in her own right), who gave her some polish and poise, her career was going nowhere. Calloway hooked her up with Atlantic Records, then a nascent firm specializing in ""race"" records. Atlantic would become known over the next several years as the ""House that Ruth Brown built,"" as she landed one hit R&B number after another. In the meanwhile, she suffered from a succession of faithless husbands, the aftereffects of a car accident that broke both her legs in several places, and finally, a classical '50s suburban marriage that brought her career to a halt for several years. Much of the second half of the book is taken up with her lengthy battle with Atlantic to get a fair share of the money she had helped the company earn in the 1950s, counterposed with her comeback in the 1980s, which was climaxed by a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway show Black and Blue. Brown's ultimately successful battle to win monetary justice for herself and other aging R&B stars and her startling recollections of traveling throught the segregated South lift this above the usual run of show-biz bios.