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Esther Phillips

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Galveston, Houston TX, United States (1935 – 1984)

Esther Phillips (December 23, 1935 – August 7, 1984) was an American singer. Phillips was known for her R&B vocals, but she was a versatile singer, also performing , , , and music.

Born Esther Mae Jones in Galveston, Texas, when she was an adolescent, her parents divorced, and she was forced to divide her time between her father in Houston and her mother in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Because she was brought up singing in church, she was hesitant to enter a talent contest at a local blues club, but her sister insisted and she complied. A mature singer at age fourteen, she won the amateur talent contest in 1949 at the Barrelhouse Club owned by Johnny Otis. Otis was so impressed that he recorded her for Modern Records and added her to his traveling revue, the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, billed as ‘Little Esther Phillips’ (she reportedly took the surname from a gas station sign).

Her first hit record was Double Crossing Blues, recorded in 1950 for Savoy Records. After several hit records with Savoy, including her duet with Mel Walker on Mistrusting Blues, which went to number one that year, as did “Cupid Boogie”. Other Phillips records that made it onto the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in 1950 include “Misery” (number 9), “Deceivin’ Blues” (number 4), “Wedding Boogie” (number 6), and “Faraway Blues” (number 6). Few female artists, R&B or otherwise, had ever enjoyed such success in their debut year. Phillips left Otis and the Savoy label at the end of 1950 and signed with Federal Records.

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