Memorialization is a slow process but it starts with recognition. In his review of Esther’s career for the Blues Foundation https://blues.org/blues_hof_inductee/esther-phillips/, Jim O’Neal touches on many of the aspects that made Esther’s career so tragic. I’m still working on an “Esther Phillips – The early years” which will perhaps explain why her life was so burdened and laced with tragedy.
In her review of Phillips nomination for the magazine “Rock & Blues Muse”, Martine Ehrenclou describes Esther as “a 13-year-old prodigy, singing very adult, saucy blues with the legendary Johnny Otis.” https://www.rockandbluesmuse.com/2023/03/15/blues-hall-of-fame-2023-inductees-announced/ – That’s the problem, Esther’s early songs were biographical rather than “saucy”. That’s been my challenge this year, how to describe Esther’s earliest releases with her actual lived-life experiences in the context of a young lady aged 13-14, who was forced to grow-up too quickly.
To celebrate her nomination here is a 19-minute mix of some of her earliest songs, the tracks are provided by the Internet Archive, recorded from 78RPM records.
- Double Crossing Blues (1950) – Johnny Otis Quintette With The Robins And Little Esther https://www.discogs.com/master/878893-Johnny-Otis-Quintette-With-The-Robins-And-Little-Esther-The-Beale-St-Gang-Double-Crossing-Blues-Back
- Mistruistin’ Blues (1950) – Little Esther With Mel Walker Accomp. By The Johnny Otis Orchestra https://www.discogs.com/release/1046294-Little-Esther-With-Mel-Walker-Accomp-By-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch-Little-Esther-With-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch
- Longing In My Heart (1957) – Little Esther https://www.discogs.com/master/1207945-Little-Esther-Longing-In-My-Heart-If-Its-News-To-You
- Lost Dreams Blues (1950) – Little Esther and Mel Walker with Johnny Otis Orchestra https://www.discogs.com/master/729301-Little-Esther-And-Mel-Walker-With-Johnny-Otis-Orch-Deceivin-Blues-Lost-Dream-Blues
- MIsery (1950) – Little Esther with Johnny Otis Orchestra https://www.discogs.com/release/1046294-Little-Esther-With-Mel-Walker-Accomp-By-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch-Little-Esther-With-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch
- Love Will Break Your Heart (1950) – Little Esther and Mel Walker with Johnny Otis Orchestra https://www.discogs.com/release/7526940-Johnny-Otis-Orch-With-Little-Esther-And-Mel-Walker-Love-Will-Break-Your-Heart-I-Dont-Care
- Just Can’t Get Free (1950) – Little Esther and Mel Walker with Johnny Otis Orchestra https://www.discogs.com/master/709725-Little-Esther-And-Mel-Walker-With-Johnny-Otis-Orchestra-And-The-Beltones-Just-Cant-Get-Free-Cupids-B
Tracks are all from Savoy records.
Creed Taylor’s production’s of Esther Phillips are well known, especially the disco reworking of Dinah Washington’s “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” (1975).
Also inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2023 is Josh White. Taylor produced two albums with White for ABC Paramount – the first in 1956 “The Josh White Stories” https://www.discogs.com/master/515038-Josh-White-The-Josh-White-Stories-Vol-1 and a second, two years later “The Josh White Stories Volume II” https://www.discogs.com/master/515039-Josh-White-The-Josh-White-Stories-Volume-II.