It was 19 years ago today, January 14th of 1995 that the world lost a star, Ruby Starr. After a long battle with the cancer that was ravaging her lungs and body, the 45-year-old red-haired singer sang her last song, a sad song that left many in tears. Those who knew this young Sylvania woman and knew her talents, also knew she was too young to die, but life if not always easy. And life doesn’t always follow the script we’d like. It didn’t for Ruby. A woman who whose real name was Constance Helen Mierzwiak and who lived her early life in the Toledo suburb of Sylvania and the last 20 years of her life in the suburbs of fame. Constance Mierzwiak nurtured her passion for singing from the time she was in grade school, performing as Connie Little. A little girl who could belt out songs with a big voice. In those very early years, Toledo area audiences might have remembered her as Connie and the Blu-Beats, or performing with country groups known as the Downtowners or the Blue Grange Ramblers. She also played several times atop a flat-bed truck in the parking lot of the Colony Shopping Center, or according to her mother, she took the make-shift sages at concession stands at local drive in theaters in Toledo to entertain the movie goers. At that time, Connie was still young, and singing the sweet ballads of Brenda Lee and Dusty Springfield, but then as she grew into her teen years, the pretty young Connie, with a huge crown of afro-red hair, found rock and roll, a new voice and a new adventure.
According to Wikipedia;
“She joined the band Ruby Jones in 1969 and, in 1971 they were signed to Curtom Records and recorded their first album, Ruby Jones. Shortly after that album’s release, Black Oak Arkansas lead vocalist Jim “Dandy” Mangrum saw Starr singing in an Evansville Indiana club and convinced her to join his band. At this point she assumed the stage name of Ruby Starr.”
Starr toured with Black Oak Arkansas and was perhaps best known a the co-singer in their 1973 hit single ‘Jim Dandy”. A year later, though, she had formed her own group touring as Ruby Starr & Grey Ghost, but still performing with Black Oak Arkansas at times and also singing with Black Sabbath and several other nationally known groups. By the late 1970s, Starr left the hard knocks of the road, and settled in Milwaukee Wisconsin area. It became her adopted home town and she became a popular act in the region where she also formed another group known as “Lucy Grey”. Despite her unique style with a bluesy Janis Joplin-esque chops, Starr reached for, but never quite touched the brass ring of big name fame. It could easily be argued that she had the talents and had the hard-to-forget personality, but big fame eluded Ruby and eventually she moved to Las Vegas where she found a home at the hotels like the Riviera and the Stardust. A last grasp at the big stages where she enjoyed some recognition and her love of performance. During this period, The Ruby Star Band also performed as the opening act for Kansas and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. But by the mid nineties, she began having headaches that didn’t go away. She felt ill and soon discovered she had cancer. Lung cancer and a brain tumor. The prognosis was not good and little Connie returned to her family’s home in Toledo where she died. January 14, 1995. At the time, few people in Toledo knew of her death and perhaps few remembered this young star who once did shine bright and promising. Even the Toledo Blade did not acknowledge the death of this hometown voice, Ruby Starr, until several days later.
Her mother, Henrietta Mierzwiak, told the Milwaukee Journal that if she had any regrets it was that Ruby was never able to sustain the fame she found with Black Oak Arkansaw in the early 1970’s. But she said that for her daughter music was always a part of her life from the time she was a young girl when she loved to sing songs like “On the Wings of a Snow White Dove”. Her mother described Ruby as a vivacious woman who loved music and life on the road. She left high school at 16 to pursue the dream and was a true personality, onstage and off.
But as it was written in her obituary, no matter how much she traveled and no mattered where her life had taken her, she never forgot where home was and in the end..she came home when the song of her life finally ended.
Ruby Starr. R.I.P.
This You Tube Video gives you a good idea of Ruby’s astounding singing talents.