by Kevin Burton
Growing up she was known as a tomboy, earning the nickname “Dusty” by playing soccer in the streets with boys.
She grew up to be anything but.
“During her 1960s peak she ranked among the most successful British female performers on both sides of the Atlantic,” reads her Wikipedia entry. “ and her image – marked by a peroxide blonde bouffant/beehive hairstyle, heavy makeup (thick black eyeliner and eye shadow) and evening gowns, as well as stylized, gestural performances – made her an icon of the Swinging Sixties.”
She made it three times to the US top ten, with “Wishin’ and Hopin’” in 1963, the transcendent “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.” In 1966 and “Son of a Preacher Man” in 1968.
She was a stylish purveyor of Blue-eyed soul but she had substance as well. Never more so than when she stood up to the apartheid government in South Africa.
In December 1964 she and her band landed in South Africa for a concert tour.
Springfield and her manager had it specifically written into her contract that she would only play to mixed audiences, according to reporter Lucy Burns, who told the story on BBC World Service.
The British musicians union had advised a total boycott of South Africa.
Some performers went to South Africa and alternately played one concert for whites and another for blacks, according to Doug Reece, the bass player for Springfield’s backing band the Echoes, who spoke to Burns for the BBC piece.
Reece said Springfield “couldn’t live with herself” doing that.
Though the band had a contract, they had to enforce it after every step.
“Before the (first) show started, my job was to make sure that there were colored people in the audience,” Reece said. “If there’s no black people in the audience I wouldn’t start the show.”
“And showtime came and I looked through the little viewing window at the side of the stage and saw no colored people so I said no you can’t start the show.”
“And I think ten minutes later I looked out and it was a mixed audience so the show started. And it was fabulous,” Reece said.
“And people loved it and I don’t think people cared who they were sitting next to, a white person or a black person. I just think they sat there and enjoyed the music, enjoyed the entertainment.”
After the first concert government officials approached Springfield, asking her to sign papers saying she would agree to play to segregated audiences. She refused.
Reece said he didn’t know what apartheid meant until he got to South Africa. “Until that point I didn’t know it was going to be stressful at all. I thought, ‘fantastic another tour, south Africa.’”
Springfield was said to be more naïve than anything.
“She was still just a young girl who grew up in a convent. You don’t learn the way to of the world sitting in a convent,” Reece said.
“One of the reasons Dusty was so keen to play to mixed audiences was that her music owed so much to black artists,” Burns said.
“Most of the music we played was black music. There was hardly anything white,” Reece said. “She had done the Fox Theatre in New York with Stevie Wonder and Martha and the Vandellas and all those sorts of people. And they were friends of hers.”
As the band progressed through the concert series, government pressure and threats increased.
“We were told don’t leave the hotel there may be people out there who don’t agree with what you feel. We don’t want any riots on our hands,” Reece said. “We did actually go out and look around and we had no trouble at all.”
The band managed to play five of the seven scheduled concerts.
“But after a mixed gig in Capetown, the South African government gave the group 48 hours to leave the country,” Burns said. The government issued a statement.
“Miss Springfield was warned on two occasions through her manager to observe our South African way of life in regard to entertainment and was informed that if she failed to do so she would have to leave the country,” the statement read. “She chose to defy the government and was accordingly allowed to remain in the country for a limited time only.”
The band had an armed guard from their hotel to the airport. Reece recalls the black porters at the airport smiling at nodding at them as the band crossed the tarmac and boarded the plane.
“I think they understood and knew what had happened and I think they appreciated what we had tried to do.” Reece said.
“Dusty returned home to what newspapers at the time described as a hero’s welcome,” Burns said. “Fifteen MPs in the House of Commons signed a motion congratulating her for standing firmly and courageously against the obnoxious doctrine of apartheid in South Africa.” “Music is Music. Music crosses every boundary,” Reece said. “It doesn’t matter what religion, what race. Music is music. It’s wonderful.”