Thursday Throwback: Esther Phillips

Although the name Esther Phillips doesn’t always come up when discussing modern R&B, she left her mark on the world of music, especially in the world of blues.  Her talent and vocal versatility are often underrated but fans of classic blues definitely know her name.  Although she grew up singing gospel, Phillips had a reputation for being able to sing anything–be it jazz, blues or even country.  In 1949, at the ripe old age of fourteen, the Galveston, Texas native won a talent show at the Barrelhouse Club, owned by musician, singer and producer Johnny Otis.  Otis recognized Phillips’ talent and started recording with her.  He also took her out on the road with him, billing her as “Little Esther Phillips.”  Phillips had various blues tunes to hit the charts, among them “Double Crossing Blues,” “Mistrusting Blues,” “Cupid Boogie” (the boogie, not the shuffle), “Misery” and “Ring-a-Ding-Doo.”  Ironically, one of Phillips’ big hits wasn’t a blues tune at all–it was a dance floor smash released in 1975, a cover of a classic tune made popular by the legendary Dinah Washington, “What A Difference A Day Makes.” Unlike the Washington version, Phillips floats her jazzy vocals on top of a heavy disco beat.  The combination was an obvious success.  Phillips’ version made it to number two on the disco chart and number ten on the R&B chart.  It also made it to the top twenty on the pop chart and went to number six in the UK.  Phillips continued to record through the early 1980s, hitting the charts one last time in 1983 before her death from liver and kidney failure at the age of 48.

 –Montrose Cunningham

Montrose Cunningham is an independent funk/rock/soul artist and devoted music aficionado residing in Dallas, Texas. When he isn’t digging through the crates–digital and analog–he’s jamming with his band or hanging with his daughters, sometimes at the same time. Purchase his latest release “Inertia” at, visit him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @MontroseC.


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