James Brown
Luther Vandross
Billy Butler
Jerry Butler
Terry Callier
Sam Cooke
King Curtis
The Drifters
Walter Jackson
Lou Johnson
Ben E King
Knight Brothers
Curtis Mayfield
Tony Middleton
Clyde McPhatter
Esther Phillips
Wilson Pickett
The Willows
Eugene Record

Many More Coming Soon!


Esther Phillips had one of the most distinctive voices on record. Her career spanned fifty years and embraced a wide range of musical genres from Bop to the Blues, R&B, C&W, Soul, Pop and Jazz. She was born Esther Mae Jones on 23 December ’35 and began her professional life as ‘Little’ Esther (aged 13) singing with the Johnny Otis Band with whom she scored her first #1 US R&B hit ‘Double Crossing Blues’ (Savoy) in February 1950. Esther followed on with six more R&B top ten hit singles that year, two of them ‘Mistrustin’ Blues and ‘Cupid’s Boogie’ both also reached #1 US R&B. Though her name was not to be seen on the US charts for ten years after ‘Ring-A-Ding-Doo’ (Federal) went to #8 R&B in February ’52, Little Esther still toured the western states and it was here she was rediscovered and signed by Lenox records.
‘Release Me’ a reworking of an old C&W hit by Ray Price really put Esther (who now adopted Phillips as her surname) on the US map when it went to #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #1 R&B in November ’62. She cut her first album for Lenox Reflections of Country & Western Greats and though it was not the big hit it should have been it did introduce Esther to the rest of the world.
Lenox went bust in ’64 and Esther moved to Atlantic who not only bought her contract but also purchased the Lenox masters. Though Atlantic wanted Esther on the label, they initially had no idea in what direction to go with her, so they tried out a number of options, some more successful than others. Her first hit for them was ‘And I Love Him’ that went to #11 on R&B singles in April ’65. The Beatles were so taken with her spin on their song that they brought her to London for the first time and secured TV and media appearances. Atlantic issued an album of pop standards And I Love Him that garnered good success but the only other Atlantic single to chart was her cover of Percy Sledge’s million- seller ‘When A Woman Loves A Man’ that went to #26 R&B in May ’66. Esther Phillips Sings followed the same format as her first Atlantic album – 12 more pop standards in the movie and theatre tradition but did not go over as well as the first set. In the latter months of ’68 Esther signed to Roulette where she hit the charts once again with ‘Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry’. But her stay there was short lived and by January ’70 she was back on Atlantic and had her biggest hit album so far with Burnin’ a sensational live set recorded at Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper Club in LA and produced by the late great King Curtis. Her last Atlantic hit single was the superb ‘Set Me Free’ recorded with the Dixie Flyers in Miami.
Esther struggled with a lifelong addiction to heroin that adversely affected her career periodically. Her hit recording of the Gil Scott Heron song ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ (Kudu ’72) describes her feelings on this subject and her reactions to the prejudice of others. Though Esther would raise herself to great heights during her 35-year career her addiction would put her very low on several occasions – and out of work.
In 1971 Esther relocated to the West Coast and signed to Creed Taylor’s Kudu label. ‘From A Whisper To A Scream’ her first album for them provided an emphatic new beginning and set up a run of superbly creative and commercially successful albums. Alone Again, Naturally followed in ’72, Black Eyed Blues and the excellent Performance in ’74,
W/Beck in ’75 delivered her biggest career single a dance version of ‘What a Difference A Day Makes’ that gave her a global hit in the fall of ’75. Two more great albums For All We Know and Capricorn Princess were released in ’76. When her Kudu contract came up for renewal Esther did not re-sign but opted to set up her own production company ESTO
and struck a new deal with Mercury Records by the end of ’77. The first album You’ve Come A Long Way Baby was constructed in much the same format as before. But great as these last four Mercury albums were (issued between ’77- ’81), Esther could not recapture the record buying publics attention the way she had with Savoy, Lenox, Atlantic and Kudu.
Tragically Esther Phillips died in LA on 7 August 1984 from liver & kidney failure, she was only 48 years old. Esther was a unique singer and the legacy of her wonderful music will continue to illuminate and entertain us all long into the new millennium.
Though she had twenty hit singles, Esther can be best appreciated through her series of excellent albums. A number of compilations have been issued like Esther Phillips, CTI All Stars ‘Live’ and The Best of Esther Phillips. Her complete catalogue should really be available on CD but many early Savoy and Federal compilations have already been deleted but there are a number of good later compilations still available.

Peter Burns August ‘04

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Recommended reading

Recommended listening
Confessin’ The Blues (11) US Atlantic 7567906702 /93 - UK Sequel 807 /94
Best of Esther ’62-’70 (40) Rhino R2 72624 /97
Esther/And I Love Him (24) US 2fer Collectables 6228 /99
Anthology (18) UK Soul Brother CDSBPJ 16 /02
The Kudu Years (18) AUS Raven RVCD 174 /04