Washington was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, and raised in Harlem, New York. In 1956, she joined the vocal group The Hearts, and also recorded for J & S Records as a member of The Jaynetts (“I Wanted To Be Free” / “Where Are You Tonight”, J&S 1765/6). She first recorded solo, as Baby Washington, in 1957, on “Everyday” (J&S 1665).
In 1958 she signed to Donald Shaw’s Neptune Records as a solo performer, and established herself as a soul singer with two hits in 1959: “The Time” (U.S. R&B #22) and “The Bells” (U.S. R&B # 20). She followed up with the hit “Nobody Cares” (U.S. R&B # 17) in 1961. Several of her singles on the Neptune and ABC labels were credited to Jeanette (Baby) Washington, which later led to confusion with an entirely different singer known as Jeanette Washington.
She signed with ABC Paramount in 1961, but her two releases for the label were not hits, although the self-written “Let Love Go By” later became a notable Northern Soul single. Washington then moved to Juggy Murray’s Sue Records in 1962, scoring her only entry on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 with “That’s How Heartaches Are Made” in 1963. Two years later, she hit again on the U.S. R&B Top 10 with “Only Those In Love”. Among her other Sue recordings were “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”, co-written by Chip Taylor and Jerry Ragovoy, and “Careless Hands”, penned by Billy Myles.
Washington revived her career in the early 1970s covering The Marvelettes’ “Forever”, (# 30 R&B) as a duet with Don Gardner. Her solo release, “I’ve Got To Break Away”, made number 73 on the R&B charts, after which the advent of disco led to a decline in her popularity. She has never experienced great crossover recognition, although Dusty Springfield once cited Washington as her all-time favorite singer and recorded “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”.
Washington is still active as a live performer, appearing several times a year on the East Coast and performing on cruise ships. She also performed at the Prestatyn Soul Weekender festival in Wales in 2004. She performed with the Enchanters at a Philadelphia-area show in March 2008, and in Baltimore in June 2008. Washington was among the 2008 honorees in Community Works’ Ladies Singing the Blues music series.