Toni Lynn Washington has been at the forefront of Boston’s music scene for decades. Aptly named Boston’s Queen of Soul and Blues, her accolades are too many to name—seven Blues Music Award nominations, a Boston Blues Festival Lifetime Achievement Award and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Sen. Ed Markey, to name a few.

She’s graced the stage from a young age, singing with her school and church choirs, sneaking into music clubs to stun audiences across the city, and eventually expanding her career across the nation. 

Four critically-acclaimed albums later — and another is on the way — she has cemented her place in music history. In tribute, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has proclaimed December 6th "Toni Lynn Washington Day."

Boston’s Queen of Soul and Blues herself joined GBH’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath in-studio to discuss her life and legacy. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: Do I understand correctly that today is also your birthday?

Toni Lynn Washington: Today is my birthday. Actually, I was born between the 5th and the 6th, so I claim both days.

Rath: As you should. Happy birthday!

Washington: Thank you.

Rath: As I mentioned, you’ve been a big part of Boston’s music history, but you’re from Southern Pines, North Carolina. I’m curious about what your musical diet was like growing up. What was in the air?

Washington: Well, actually, I didn’t have much of a background as far as performing or anything like that. But, you know, I liked listening to the radio, and I think music just became a part of me. That’s really something that I really wanted to be — an entertainer. So, gradually, it happened.

Rath: I would assume that given all you’ve accomplished, you came from a big, musical family. At what point did you really feel like music was your calling?

Washington: Actually, I don’t come from a large musical family. I have a son that plays the drums in a large Boston band, and my other son is an emcee here and there, and he puts on large events and that type of thing. I think I’m the only one in the family that has a musical background.

Rath: When did you realize that you wanted to be an entertainer professionally?

Washington: Oh, ever since I can remember. We hadn’t heard of TV back in the day. But on the radio, I’d listen to Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald — it just goes on and on. I liked what I heard and I wanted to be a part of that.

Rath: Were you singing along on the radio?

Washington: Yes, I was. I learned all the songs. And, at one time, I can’t remember when it was, but I surprised myself and my mom. There was a huge band. It was an orchestra back then. It was a big band all around the place. They were playing, and I went up to the stage and asked them if I could come up and sing a song.

Ruth Brown was very popular back in those days, in the 50s. I got up and sang either “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” or “5-10-15 Hours.” I learned all of her songs, and I surprised the crowd and my mom.

Rath: What was it about that music that really connected with you, that you learned all of those songs?

Washington: I just learned them. There’s nothing unique about it. I just, you know, listened to the radio all the time, and you just learn the songs.

Rath: You do more than learn the songs! It’s wonderful to hear you talk about this like it’s a mundane thing. That’s an incredible gift!

Washington: Well, I know what I want when I’m on stage. I don’t play music, I don’t write music and I don’t read music. The only thing I know how to do is sing. I tell the band what I want, and they take the ball and run with it. I’m so glad to be working with so many wonderful, talented professionals in the business, so I really don’t have to worry about my performances on stage.

Rath: Because for you, it’s all about performance.

Washington: Well, I like to think so! But without that backup…

Rath: That also means connecting, in a way. You seem to do wonderfully with an audience. What are you feeling from your side of things when you’re on stage like that?

Washington: I feed from the audience. I would like to give them a part of me that’s comical and funny. I like for them to laugh and all. I kind of flirt with the guys, and I just have a good time when I’m up there. When I’m on stage, I don’t worry about anything else, being anywhere else but where I’m at and what I’m doing.

Rath: You’ve had a full, broad, national career. You’ve spent time in New Orleans and Los Angeles, but you’re still credited as a Boston-based artist. Could you talk about what Boston means to you, musically and personally?

Washington: It means everything to me because there’s a lot of fantastic music here in Boston. To be connected with the music scene here in Boston is about the best thing that could have happened to me. I mean, true, I’ve done a lot of world tours and we’ve had a lot of fun there. But settling down here in Boston is where I really need to be right now.

Rath: You’ve accomplished so much, but I get the sense that you’re still so driven in your musical journey. Where does that come from?

Washington: Oh, I am very driven in my musical journey. I don’t know when it will end. I’m just ready to go. My thing is...we go now.

Rath: What are you working on now? What’s the next record going to be?

Washington: Well, Brian Templeton — he’s a fantastic musician — wanted to take me into the studio and do a gospel CD. Now, I’m not a gospel singer, but listening to the tracks…I better be a gospel singer. Let me put it that way. He’s doing pretty good financially—I mean, trying to raise money [for the record.] But that’s the next thing that I’m working on right now.

Rath: I’m so excited to hear that. I mean, I’d love to hear the soul that you bring.

Washington: So am I.

Rath: You’ve collaborated with a lot of artists, like with this gospel album. Do you have a goal in mind? What are you hoping to leave listeners with?

Washington: Well, I’m not sure. I don’t know where it’s going to lead, but I’m hoping that it’ll get out there and be played. Perhaps I can form some church gigs. I don’t know where it’s going to lead.

Rath: Someplace beautiful, that’s for sure.

Washington: I hope so.