Esther Phillips (December 23, 1935 - August 7, 1984) was a highly acclaimed R&B-soul singer well known for her versatility which enabled her to branch out into many other genres that also included pop, blues, jazz, and country. Born Esther Mae Jones in Galveston, TX, she began her career at age 14 after being discovered by Johnny Otis at a talent show. Shortly thereafter, she joined his traveling revue, the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, billed as Little Esther.
While still in her teens, Phillips made her national debut on the R&B charts with "Double Crossing Blues" which topped the charts in 1950. For the remainder of that year, she had a string of six top-ranking hits, all backed by the Johnny Otis Orchestra, that included the chart-topping "Mistrustin' Blues" and "Cupid Boogie," making her one of very few performing artists in any genre to have such a huge success in their debut year, and at such an early age.
Despite her propitious start, her career waned for a number of years thereafter until she was discovered again in 1962, this time by Kenny Rogers who arranged to sign her to Lenox Records. Now billed as Esther Phillips, she made her debut that year on the Pop/Rock charts with "Release Me," a Top 10 hit that also topped the R&B charts. Written in 1946, this pop-country classic later also became a hit for Engelbert Humperdinck in 1967. Phillips' other pop hits also included a female version of The Beatles' "And I Love Her" (retitled as "And I Love Him") (1965), a female version of the Percy Sledge classic, "When A Man Loves A Woman" (retitled as "When A Woman Loves A Man") (1966), and a disco rendition of "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes" (1975).
Phillips' remaining chart hits, which consisted of an eclectic mix of R&B songs, traditional pop standards, soul ballads, and even some country tunes and movie themes, mostly continued through the late 1970s, with one last entry in 1983 on the R&B charts, "Turn Me Out." Over the years, she received four Grammy nominations, and she continued to record and perform through the early 1980s until her life was tragically cut short in 1984 at age 48 by liver and kidney failure brought on by years of drug abuse.
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- Release Me 1962
(This song recharted for Esther Phillips in 1967 and also became a hit for Engelbert Humperdinck (1967) and Johnny Adams (1968).)
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