Thanks to reader Thomas Wright, I was delighted to hear that Esther Phillips is to be inducted into The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame [1]https://blues.org/hall/.

Memorialization is a slow process but it starts with recognition. In his review of Esther’s career for the Blues Foundation [2]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.” [3]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.

  1. Double Crossing Blues (1950) – Johnny Otis Quintette With The Robins And Little Esther [4]https://www.discogs.com/master/878893-Johnny-Otis-Quintette-With-The-Robins-And-Little-Esther-The-Beale-St-Gang-Double-Crossing-Blues-Back
  2. Mistruistin’ Blues (1950) – Little Esther With Mel Walker Accomp. By The Johnny Otis Orchestra [5]https://www.discogs.com/release/1046294-Little-Esther-With-Mel-Walker-Accomp-By-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch-Little-Esther-With-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch
  3. Longing In My Heart (1957) – Little Esther [6]https://www.discogs.com/master/1207945-Little-Esther-Longing-In-My-Heart-If-Its-News-To-You
  4. Lost Dreams Blues (1950) – Little Esther and Mel Walker with Johnny Otis Orchestra [7]https://www.discogs.com/master/729301-Little-Esther-And-Mel-Walker-With-Johnny-Otis-Orch-Deceivin-Blues-Lost-Dream-Blues
  5. MIsery (1950) – Little Esther with Johnny Otis Orchestra [8]https://www.discogs.com/release/1046294-Little-Esther-With-Mel-Walker-Accomp-By-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch-Little-Esther-With-The-Johnny-Otis-Orch
  6. Love Will Break Your Heart (1950) – Little Esther and Mel Walker with Johnny Otis Orchestra [9]https://www.discogs.com/release/7526940-Johnny-Otis-Orch-With-Little-Esther-And-Mel-Walker-Love-Will-Break-Your-Heart-I-Dont-Care
  7. Just Can’t Get Free (1950) – Little Esther and Mel Walker with Johnny Otis Orchestra [10]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” [11]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” [12]https://www.discogs.com/master/515039-Josh-White-The-Josh-White-Stories-Volume-II.

The Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, held in conjunction with the Blues Music Awards, will occur on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, at the Halloran Centre (225 S. Main St., Memphis). A cocktail reception honoring the BHOF Inductees and Blues Music Awards nominees will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the formal inductions commencing at 6:30 p.m. in the Halloran Theater. Tickets, including the ceremony and reception, are $75 each and available with Blues Music Awards tickets.

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