Few songs live up to their title like “Unforgettable.” Written by native New Yorker and Duke Ellington collaborator Irving Gordon, it will forever be most closely associated with Nat King Cole, but another classic rendition was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame just a year after Nat’s, by the great Dinah Washington.
The revered vocalist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama was still in her 20s when Cole recorded the first of his two versions of “Unforgettable” in 1951. He went back to it a decade later, and then of course it became a favorite of a later generation when Cole’s posthumous electronic duet with his daughter Natalie became a smash in 1991, winning both the Record and Song of the Year Grammy Awards.
Several other interpretations of “Unforgettable” were recorded and released during the 1950s, including one in French, “Inoubliable,” by the traditional pop singer Yvette Giraud. Dinah cut hers at the age of 35, only four years before her sad demise from a drink and drug overdose, and gave the song a whole new lease of life in the closing months of the 1950s.
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A few days before her new release made its singles chart debut, Dinah Washington and her band opened an engagement at New York’s Village Vanguard club. In that august setting, they performed “Unforgettable,” the flipside “Nothing In The World” and several blues numbers, including material from her Sings Bessie Smith album.
Dinah’s single joined the Hot 100 at No.94 on October 5, 1959, in the week that Billboard reviewed her new album The Queen! with the admiring words: “For those who are fond of wonderful phrasing and sensitive vocal nuance, here it is.” The song climbed to No.17.
Buy or stream “Unforgettable” on the Dinah Washington compilation Gold.