Esther Phillips Biography

Esther Mae Jones, 23 December 1935, Galveston, Texas, USA, d. 7 August 1984, Carson, California, USA. This distinctive vocalist was discovered by band leader Johnny Otis. She joined his revue in 1949 where, performing as Little Esther, the teenage singer recorded two number 1 R&B singles, ‘Double Crossing Blues’ and ‘Mistrustin’ Blues’. She then worked solo following the band’s collapse, but by the middle of the decade Phillips was chronically addicted to drugs. In 1954 she retired to Houston to recuperate and did not fully resume recording until 1962. Phillips’ version of ‘Release Me’, a country standard that was later a hit for Engelbert Humperdinck, mirrored the blend of black and white music found, contemporaneously, in Ray Charles and Solomon Burke. An album, Release Me! - Reflections Of Country And Western Greats, consolidated this style, but when Phillips moved to the Atlantic Records label, her recordings assumed a broader aspect. Polished interpretations of show tunes and standards contrasted a soul-based perspective shown in her retitled version of the John Lennon / Paul McCartney song, ‘And I Love Him’, a performance showcased on the syndicated television show Around The Beatles. Her unique, nasal intonation was perfect for her 1966 hit, ‘When A Woman Loves A Man’, while her several collaborations with the Dixie Flyers, the highly respected Criteria studio house band, were artistically successful.

The singer moved to Kudu Records in 1972 where she recorded the distinctly biographical ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, an uncompromising Gil Scott-Heron composition. The same label provided ‘What A Diff’rence A Day Makes’ (1975), which reached the US Top 20 and the UK Top 10. She also completed two exceptional albums at this time, From A Whisper To A Scream and Alone Again Naturally, but was increasingly pushed towards a specialist rather than popular audience. Ill health sadly undermined this artist’s undoubted potential, and in August 1984, Phillips died of liver and kidney failure.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.