Esther Phillips

Esther Phillips (Dec. 23, 1935 — Aug. 7, 1984) was an American soul singer from Galveston, Tex. As a teenager, she sang on early ’50s recordings by the Johnny Otis Quintette. At age 25, she signed to Lenox Records as “Little Esther” and issued six 1962/63 singles and the album Release Me.

Between 1964 and 1970, she cut three albums and 15 singles for Atlantic. Adopting a soul-funk sound, she cut seven albums on Kudo between 1971 and 1976, charting with “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” and “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.” During the disco era, she released four albums on Mercury.

She was born Esther Mae Jones to Galveston parents that divorced when she was in her tweens. As an adolescent, she split her time between her father’s home in Houston and her mother in Watts, Los Angeles. She started singing with the choir at her family church.

At her sister’s insistence, 14-year-old Esther entered a 1949 amateur contest at the Barrehouse Club on 107th and Wilmington in Watts, owned by bandleader Johnny Otis. Impressed with her full-voiced delivery, he signed her to local R&B-press Modern Records and added her to his traveling revue, the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, where she was billed as “Little Esther.” She took the surname Phillips from a sign at a gas station.


  • Release Me (1962 • “Little” Esther Phillips)
  • And I Love Him (1965)
  • Esther Phillips Sings (1966)
  • The Country Side of Esther Phillips (1966)
  • Burnin’: Live at Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, L.A. (1970)
  • Alone Again, Naturally (1972)
  • From a Whisper to a Scream (1972)
  • Black-Eyed Blues (1973)
  • Performance (1974)
  • What a Diff’rence a Day Makes (1975)
  • Capricorn Princess (1976)
  • Confessin’ the Blues (1976)
  • For All We Know (1976)
  • You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby (1977)
  • All About Esther Phillips (1978)
  • Here’s Esther, Are You Ready (1979)
  • Good Black Is Hard to Crack (1981)
  • A Way to Say Goodbye (1986)


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