After six weeks out west, singing for adoring audiences in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, she was finally settled in her Detroit home where she would spend her first Christmas with her husband of five months, Dick "Night Train" Lane.
She and her husband had just returned from Detroit Metropolitan Airport with her two sons from previous marriages, who had flown home from their preparatory school in Boston. Lane turned in early to rest for what promised to be a busy weekend.
Lane was a standout cornerback for the Detroit Lions professional football team, which was scheduled to play its season finale at Chicago in two days and the team would be leaving for Chicago the next day.
Washington joined her husband in the bedroom and they watched television together before he drifted off to sleep.
Around 3:45 a.m., Lane was awakened by the buzzing of the television set, which remained on long after the station they were watching had signed off. After seeing Washington lying on the floor, unconscious and unresponsive, he called for help.
Dr. B.C. Ross responded as soon as he could, but at 4:50 a.m. he pronounced Washington dead. She was 39 years old.
Those closest to Washington were not surprised by the cause of death: an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. For several years, Washington had struggled with her weight and had turned to pharmaceutical solutions, including controversial mercury injections and prescription diet pills, to which she may have become addicted.
Washington also struggled to find the right man in her life. As she sang in her first hit, Evil Gal Blues:
I've got men to the left, men to the right,
Men every day and men every night!
I've got so many men, I don't know what to do.
In her short life, Washington was married seven times. In addition to these legal nuptials, she had several more "rent-a-husbands." Most of these relationships were with men who were merely opportunistic, looking for an easy meal ticket who was also easy on the eyes.
But, in Dick "Night Train" Lane, her friends say, she finally found the kind of supportive - and self-supportive - man she'd been looking for.
"She was very, very happy," said her personal secretary, Shirley Couch, right after Washington's death on December 15, 1963.
Born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on August 29, 1924, she moved to Chicago with her family in 1928 and began singing in her church choir with her mother as a young girl. By the time she was 15, young Ruth Jones had won a talent contest at Chicago's Regal Theater and began performing with the Sallie Martin Gospel Singers.
Jones idolized Billie Holiday, though, and began sneaking off to sing at night clubs though just 17 years old. Her mother disapproved and Jones dropped out of school and married John Young two months before her 18th birthday. The marriage lasted just three months. Besides singing at Chicago nightclubs like Joe Louis' Rhumboogie Cafe, Jones worked as a washroom attendant at the Garrick Lounge, where she also sang in the Downbeat Room.
Music manager Joe Glaser caught her singing at the Garrick and tipped off bandleader Lionel Hampton, who hired her and gave her the stage name of Dinah Washington. Her first recordings were made under the direction of songwriter and jazz critic Leonard Feather in 1943.
Washington met husband No. 2, Hampton drummer George Jenkins, in 1944. The couple had a son born in June 1946, a few months before they divorced and about the same time she left the Hampton band to pursue a solo career with the new label, Mercury Records, which promoted her as "Queen of the Blues."
Between 1946 and 1961, Washington would record more than 400 songs for Mercury. She also married - and divorced - four more husbands in that same time span while adding a second son.
Washington broke out as a crossover star in 1959 when her recording of "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" broke into the Top Ten popular charts and won a Grammy as top rhythm and Blues record. The next year she scored two more pop hits, teaming up with Brook Benton for "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" and "A Rockin' Good Day."
But Washington's pop sales slipped in the early 1960s and she jumped to Morris Levy's Roulette label, which was totally immersed into the twist craze after establishing itself with such diversely popular artists as rockers Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen, folk singer Jimmie Rodgers and the novelty act, the Playmates.
Washington recorded nearly 100 sides in her three years with Roulette and kept busy with night club performances, even taking a stab at running her own club. In February 1961 she took over the Roberts Show Club on Chicago's South Side and renamed it Dinahland. She underwrote the club's operations for months before abandoning the project.
Washington enjoyed the trappings of her success. Some associates even called her a spendthrift.
She once bought an eight-passenger airplane but sold it at a loss after just three flights because it was too slow. On an extended tour of Europe she spent $100 a day on phone calls back home just to chat. She owned at least six mink coats and bought several more for her background singers.
On the day before her death, Washington reportedly bought some $2,400 worth of Christmas presents and wrapped them while waiting for a mink-trimmed sofa to be delivered. Washington was happy with her relatively new husband.
"He's one of the few very real men I've met in my life," she said of Lane. "I kind of think he'll be the one to grow old with."
Lane, whose star power was equal to Washington's at the time of their marriage, had risen to football fame from a hard-scrabble Texas background. Born to a prostitute and pimp in Austin, Texas, on April 16, 1928, Lane was abandoned in a dumpster when 3 months old and was rescued by Ella Lane, a widow with two children.
Lane played football in high school and junior college and served in the U.S. Army before taking a laborer's job in Los Angeles. Frustrated by the work, he persuaded the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League to give him a tryout.
The Rams gave him a chance, trying him first in the offensive line. By the time he moved to the defensive backfield, he had picked up his nickname of Night Train from a song of the same name. As a rookie cornerback in 1952, Lane set a league record for interceptions in a season with 14 in 12 games. He also gained a reputation as a fierce hitter and his "Night Train Necktie" eventually led to the NFL's ban of the clothesline tackle.
Lane first met Washington during his rookie NFL season. After he was traded to the Chicago Cardinals in 1954, he would occasionally run into her on the streets of her adopted home town. Even after he moved to the Detroit Lions, Lane would catch Washington's nightclub act whenever possible.
After Lane was divorced from his first wife in January 1963, he began dating Washington. By June they had decided to wed, which they did on July 2 in Las Vegas.
Both Lane and Washington were inducted into their respective career halls of fame - Washington into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and Lane into the National Football League Hall of Fame in 1974. Lane died on Jan. 29, 2002, of a heart attack at age 73.