b. Esther Mae Washington, 23rd December 1935, Galveston, Texas, U.S.A.
d. 7th August 1984, Harbor - UCLA Medical Center, Torrance, California, U.S.A.
Esther Phillips hailed from Galveston in Texas.
Her parents were Lucille Green and Arthur Washington.
She began singing in church as a young child.
When her parents divorced, she spent time between her father in Houston and her mother in the Watts area of Los Angeles.
esther phillips with some members of the johnny otis orchestra
She was originally noticed by, vibes man and bandleader, Johnny Otis and joined his revue in 1949.
She was originally known as Little Esther.
double crossin blues b/w ain't nothin' shakin' / far away blues b/w wedding boogie - 1950
Esther recorded two number 1 R & B singles for the Savoy imprint, 'Double Crossing Blues' and 'Mistrustin' Blues'.
In 1951, Little Esther moved from Savoy to Federal after a dispute over royalties.
the deacon moves in b/w other lips, other arms / i'm a bad, bad girl b/w don't make a fool out of me - 1951
Esther remained with Federal for a time, then relocated to Decca in 1953, returning to Savoy between 1956-1959.
After the band's demise, Esther turned to drugs (mainly heroin), which took over her life for a long while.
Relocating to Houston, to live with her father, Esther wasn't to return to recording until the following decade.
melody lane - 1956 / release me! - 1963 / and i love him - 1965 / esther phillips sings - 1966
She signed for the Lenox Label in 1960.
That year she recorded the song 'Release Me', a song that was later to become a number one hit for the crooner Englebert Humperdink.
A parent album was released entitled 'Release Me! - Reflections Of Country And Western Greats' for Lenox in 1963.
Lenox then folded that year.
Esther then signed to Atlantic Records and began to diversify in styles.
Too old to be called Little Esther, she re-christened herself Esther Phillips, choosing her last name from a nearby Phillips gas station.
A good example was a reworking of the John Lennon / Paul McCartney song, 'And I Love Him', a performance showcased on the television show 'Around The Beatles'.
the country side of esther phillips - 1966 / live at freddie jett's pied piper l.a. - 1970
In 1966 she recorded, 'When A Woman Loves A Man' (an answer to Percy Sledge's classic 'When A Man Loves A Woman'), and collaborated with the Dixie Flyers, a Criteria studio house band.
With her addiction worsening, Esther checked into a rehab facility.
While undergoing treatment, she recorded some sides for the Roulette imprint in 1969.
from a whisper to a scream - 1971 / alone again, naturally - 1972 / black eyed blues - 1973 / performance - 1974
Esther signed to Kudu Records in 1971, where she recorded 'Home Is Where The Hatred Is', a Gil Scott-Heron composition and reflected an almost autobiographical message regarding her drugs addiction.
She also recorded the albums 'From A Whisper To A Scream' (containing the Scott Heron song), in 1974, and 'Alone Again Naturally'.
esther phillips with joe beck - 1975 / capricorn princess - 1976 / for all we know - 1976 / we've come a long way - 1977
Her largest international hit came in 1975, with the Grover / Adams penned, 'What A Diff'rence A Day Makes', which reached the U.S. Top 20 and the U.K. Top 10.
Esther signed to Mercury in 1979 and recorded 'You've Come A Long Way Baby' and 'All About Esther Phillips' (which contained her version of the Odyssey song 'Native New Yorker').
all about love - 1978 / esther phillips - 1978 / here's esther...are you ready? - 1979 / a good black is hard to crack - 1981
In 1981, Esther released 'A Good Black Is Hard To Crack' on Mercury.
Her last R & B chart single was 1983's 'Turn Me Out,' a one-off for the small Winning label.
Ill health sadly took Esther from us on the 7th of August 1984, and she died of Laennec's cirrhosis of the liver.
Esther's burial was on the 14th of August at Lincoln Cemetery, Compton, California.
Here is an interesting e-mail from a good friend of Esther, Mayfield W. Small, Jr
I am looking forward to reading and having as much information on and about Esther Phillips as possible. You see, she and I were very good friends. She and I spent many days and evenings pounding the streets of New York City in and out of the records stores on Broadway and Avenue of The Americas checking to see if our records were stocked. I was on Buddah Records being produced by the late Van McCoy and also working with Esther via Creed Taylor of CTI Records. I remember on one occasion, I was at home in Washington, DC and received a call from a young lady by the name of Semo Doe who was Creed Taylor's Secretary. She knew that Esther and I were good friends and that we had a lot of respect for one another. Apparently, Esther was dismayed by something that occured with her and someone in Creed's office and Esther was refusing an interview with Ebony Magazine which was set up for her in New York. Semo asked me to call Esther at her home in Los Angeles and persuade her to come to New York and do the article. Esther finally (after a lot of cohersing and encouragement) decided she would provided I would meet her there and appear in the article as well. I found that to be a double honor and agreed to meet her a few days later in New York. It gave me a thrill to call Semo Doe back and tell her within the next few days we'd be in New York. Actually, within that week Esther was also to appear at The Lincoln Center Philharmonic Hall. At the conclusion of that great show, we took many photos backstage with Carmen McCrae, Jerry Butler, Pee Wee Ellis, Esther Phillips and me. I was personally thanked by Creed Taylor and Semo Doe for encouraging Esther. The very next day Esther asked me to go to Creeds Office downtown and pick up her check for the performance the night before. I complied and had no problem securing her money. Truly, those were the good old days. I also wrote a couple of songs for Esther, one of which became a national hit....it is titled...."That's Alright With Me" and believe it or not, I still receive residules for that piece. I also wrote another piece called "The Choice Is Up To You" which I remember Esther liking so much. The tune That's Alright With Me appears on her album...."Whisper To A Scream." There were so many wonderful memories of Esther...When she came to Washington, DC to do The Kennedy Center...I was thrilled to be able to not only go and remain backstage with her but to take a friend with me who had attended the concert. I am still a musician, songwriter, singer and now a minister. If there is any information that you can include in your biographical information about my relationship with Esther whom I referred to a lot as Queen Esther please feel free. Also, you may feel free to do any amount of research to see if these claims that I have made are true. I actually spoke to Creed Taylor in New York a few months ago. I can be reached as thus. Mayfield W. Small, Jr'
solo as little esther phillips:
Memory Lane (King Records 1956)
Down Memory Lane With Little Esther (King Records 1959)
Release Me! - Reflections Of Country And Western Greats (Lenox Records 1963)
solo as esther phillips:
And I Love Him (Atlantic Records 1965)
Esther (Atlantic Records 1966)
The Country Side Of Esther Phillips (Atlantic Records 1966)
Burnin' Live At Freddie Jett's Pied Piper LA (Atlantic Records 1970)
From A Whisper To A Scream (Kudu Records 1972)
Alone Again Naturally (Kudu Records 1972)
Black-Eyed Blues (Kudu Records 1973)
Performance (Kudu Records 1974)
with Joe Beck:
What A Difference A Day Makes (Kudu Records 1975)
Confessin' The Blues (Atlantic Records 1975)
For All We Know (Kudu Records 1976)
Capricorn Princess (Kudu Records 1976)
You've Come A Long Way Baby (Mercury Records 1979)
All About Esther Phillips (Mercury Records 1981)
Here's Esther ... Are You Ready? (Mercury Records 1979)
A Good Black Is Hard To Crack (Mercury Records 1982)