Andre Stevens-Thomas draws inspiration from many artists. One source of inspiration, Esther Phillips, famously said to Andre, “You ought to be on soul train!” Finally, he knows what she meant.

Esther Mae Jones, also known as Little Esther Phillips (December 23, 1935 – August 7, 1984) was born in Galveston, Texas. As a child her parents divorced, so her time was divided between her father in Houston and her mother in in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Esther was brought up singing in a church, and one day—thanks to a little encouragement from her sister—entered herself in a local talent contest. At only 14 years old, she managed to catch the attention of Johnny Otis. Otis owned the club: the year was 1949.

So impressed was Otis that he recorded her for Modern Records, and added her to his traveling revue, “The California Rhythm and Blues Caravan.” Esther Phillips was originally billed as “Little Esther Phillips,” after she reportedly took the surname from a gas station sign.

The first hits of Esther Phillips were recorded for Savoy Records, and included such titles as “Mistrusting Blues”, which went to number one that year along with “Cupid Boogie”. Other hits during the 1950s include “Misery”, “Deceivin’ Blues”, “Wedding Boogie”, and “Faraway Blues”.

At the end of 1950, Esther left Otis and the Savoy label to sign with Federal Records. This move ultimately proved to be disastrous for her career. Part of Esther’s problem was that she was not recording with Otis, the other was her frequent drug use. By the middle of the decade she was chronically addicted to drugs, and by 1954 had returned to Houston to live with her father and recover.

Ultimately Phillips made a comeback in 1962 under the Lenox record label. She was no longer billed as “Little Esther Phillips”, but as simply “Esther Phillips.” Esther went on to release the hit “Release Me” with produce Bob Gans, as well as a number of other minor R&B hits. Her success in the 1960s ultimately led to her signing with Atlantic Records, when she scored again with the Jimmy Radcliffe song “Try Me”.

Esther’s battle with heroin ultimately proved to be too much, and she checked into rehab in 1969. Despite producing a few more hits, she never regained the status she once commanded in the music industry. She died at age 48 in 1984, due to liver failure from drug use.

Click to listen to Esther’s single, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.”

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