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Esther Phillips

Esther Phillips aka “Little Esther” was born Esther Mae Jones; December 23, 1935, in Galveston, Texas. Her first hit record was “Double Crossing Blues,” with the Johnny Otis Quintette and the Robins, released in 1950 by Savoy Records, which reached number 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. She made several hit records for Savoy, including “Mistrusting Blues” and “Cupid’s Boogie,” both of which also went to number 1 that year. Four more of her records made the Top 10 in the same year: “Misery,” “Deceivin’ Blues,” “Wedding Boogie,” and “Far Away Blues.” Few female artists performing in any genre had such success in their debut year. Phillips was known for her R&B vocals, but she was a versatile singer, also performing pop, country, jazz, blues, and soul music her voice had a unique nasal sound that delighted audiences with its distinct phrasing and precise diction. One of her biggest post-1950s triumphs was her first album for Kudu Records, From a Whisper to a Scream, in 1972. The lead track, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” an account of drug use written by Gil Scott-Heron and nominated for a Grammy. When Phillips lost to Aretha Franklin, the latter presented the trophy to Phillips, saying she should have won it instead. She scored her biggest hit single since “Release Me” with a disco-style update of Dinah Washington‘s What a Diff’rence a Day Makes. It reached a high of a Top 20 chart appearance in the U.S., and Top 10 in the UK Singles Chart. On November 8, 1975, she performed the song on an episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live hosted by Candice Bergen. The accompanying album of the same name became her biggest seller yet, with arranger Joe Beck on guitar, Michael Brecker on tenor sax, David Sanborn on alto sax, and Randy Brecker on trumpet to Steve Khan on guitar and Don Grolnick on keyboards. She continued to record and perform throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, completing seven albums for Kudu/CTI and four for Mercury Records, which signed her in 1977. In 1983, Esther Phillips charted for the final time with “Turn Me Out,” recorded for Muse, a small independent label, which reached number 85 on the R&B chart. She completed recording her final album a few months before her death; Muse released it in 1986. Her music is still loved and respected by people around the world to this day – “I’m just a singer. If I like a song it doesn’t matter to me where it comes from — I can do it my way.” – Little Esther Phillips (December 23, 1935 – August 7, 1984).

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