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.
30 responses to “Ruby Starr….A Toledo Gem Remembered”
“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.” “The suburbs of fame” – what a genius line!
Thanks. Sometimes the brain cells fire in the right order.
It sure doesn’t seem like 19 years has passed since we did the benefit for her. I miss her too, she was always really kind to me, inviting me up to back her up in the late 80’s early 90’s. I also grew up around the corner from where they rehearsed when we were kids..I’ve always have had the best mentors. ~Miss you Connie, we’ll always love and remember you and keep your love light burning. ~”Toledo’s Georgia Peach”
Wonderful article! I went to high school and college in New Orleans and naturally, southern rock was a much bigger genre in the South. When I was a teenager in the 70’s, I sure knew of Ruby Starr, but admittedly, I really only knew of her as “the gorgeous chick with red hair who sings with a bunch of different bands”. Seems like every time I saw a southern rock act…she was in the band. Apart from stage presence and vocal talent, I think she simply had “it”…whatever that is…(a commanding performance persona?) I never knew she was from Toledo, and I appreciate this article, because “the gorgeous chick” was also a real person, of course….and now I appreciate her even more.
I had a band back in those days (Glass City Combo aka The Rhythm Rockers) and I remember playing one night at the Imperial Lanes Bowling Alley in the ball room with Connie and the Blu-Beats. I remember the blue hair they had. I will never forget her. She had so much talent. Great memories.
Here’s a pic of the Connie and the BlueBeats
Les, Thanks for the pic. What years was she with the BlueBeats?
See their ad for performance at Michigan venue: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zNOtfYqZedG1Y6IZ-WOAru_t68WJs_Yi/view?usp=sharing
When me and Paul, her brother-in-law, went to Arkansas to audition for her breakout band, I had a sad feeling for her. We all talked late into the night and asked her about her health. She told us that Black Oak had their own nurse and she was evaluated often. She always passed with good results but seeing our gal alone there, so far away, was scary. She had 2 cabins, connected together, and one was her main home, while the other was, more or less, a storage area. She went to a local bar/restaurant with us and I taught her how to play the shuffleboard game. I think she had a great night.https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=433029573391966&set=o.280920298640326&type=3&theater
Facebook 404, see see Ruby pics https://www.flickr.com/photos/46948261@N05/
FROM STEVE CANTRELL IN ALABAMA 36863 SAD, I MISS HER
Went to the cal jam in Ontario loved ruby she was the show and she could hang with the best of them what a voice . I just checked her out on tube and what a wonderful talent and I love har hair miss ya gal rest in peace I know you are rockin in heavens door. Pasto hartwell
Ruby had what it takes! She was a victim of the transition of Record labels from Artist Development into sign 20 bands, and 1 hit pays for it all, it doesn’t matter what skill and talent has to do with it. It became a formula. The 19 who didn’t stick and fell off the wall, all went into the black hole of the forgotten. It was no longer about Music and talent, it became All about Money, and Nothing else! You see where thats led to!
Very cool-looking & dynamic singer! I have two of her ’70s solo LPs and also love her work with Black Oak Arkansas.
Ruby Starr & Grey Ghost – Full Concert – 09/11/75 – Winterland (OFFICIAL) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lJ3l0_loWM
I remember Miss Ruby Jones back in the early 70’s and loved her. Even copied her hair for my senior pictures.. Best do I ever had. SO sad she passed.
Ruby was my favorite female singer of the early 70’s. What a beautiful voice she had. I even copied her hair for my senior picture. Best do I ever had. SO sad to see she passed. People I know don’t know who she was and it’s sad she didn’t become the superstar she was.
Ruby was one talented little girl that I remembered working with her when she was about 12 or 13 years old I knew then she was going to go somewhere she fulfilled her dreams only not long enough . I am proud to say that I spent many a times on the stage with her performing . She will be in my heart and memories forever she will be in my heart and memories forever . I will just never forget that little girl with the giant voice . Gary Bellaire 🎶
Still can hear the WIOT Toledo commercial ; Ruby Jones at the
Burnegate , Ruby Jones at the burnegate ! ( Burnegate Club ) . Remember seeing her there , great times . R.I.P. Ruby .
One night I was on U-Tube and watched BOA. Decided to find video of just Ruby singing and was “BLOWN OUT OF MY CHAIR” When I saw “Maybe I’m amazed! I fell in love her and was very sad to fine out she had passed in 95. I am 60, and a 45 year veteran road Musician (Guitar/Vocal) And I can’t begin to express my respect for her. It’s sad that the world lost this one. She was truly her own singer and “So Amazing” and “So Good Looking” . I was also pleased to find out we were born in the same city “Toledo” To her family I can say only this, ” She touched me so deeply I cry when I watch that video and so sad for you all. I’m sure she’s very very missed !!!! J.D Boone from the band Flyte , Jackson Michigan
she would come with grey ghost 4 or 5 times a year to INSPIRATION POINT a bar l bounced and played guitar at in DM,IA in the 70s.l loved her and we were buds…..brings back my youth…
If I knew at the time she passed away, it would have been my saddest birthday. I was born January 14, 1953.
A fantastic article! Thank you for keeping Ruby Starr’s (Connie’s) memory alive. What an amazing singer she was.
Ruby Starr was so talented. I loved her music. Thanks for keeping her memory alive.
Kims husband says What a beautiful woman RIP to her Thank God for videos!
Ruby was something else. Saw her many times in Wisconsin and was thrilled to find her solo lp when a friend was getting rid of his vinyl. I got a letter from her after she moved to Las Vegas. I was sad when she died. Some of her band from Wisconsin are on Facebook. Hard to believe she is gone. RIP…
Have all her Lp’s – got to meet her in San Diego in 1978 when she was playing with Blackfoot – said she was drinking tea with lemon and honey for her sore throat – then sang like a monster! I taped that show on a small cassette player – have it on CD now – her patter between songs in so fun!
Rick, Thanks for sharing. Ruby’s star continues to shine brightly for all those who knew her.
miss that little lady went to see her often in Wisconsin One of those rare females with fantastic looks and great personality