The late Esther Phillips unquestionably falls into the realm of great singers who never received recognition for what was a lifelong contribution to contemporary music.
Born Esther Mae Jones in Galveston, Texas, she began singing in church as a young child. When her parents divorced, she divided time between her father in Houston and her mother in the Watts area of Los Angeles. It was in Los Angeles, in 1949, that her sister entered her in a talent show at a nightclub belonging to blues man Johnny Otis. So impressed was Otis with the 13-year-old that he brought her into the studio for a recording session with Modern Records and added her to his live revue. Billed as Little Esther, she scored her first success when she was teamed with the vocal quartet the Robins (who later evolved into the Coasters) on the hit single Double Crossin' Blues.”
It topped the R&B charts in early 1950 and paved the way for Mistrustin' Blues, Misery, Cupid Boogie, and Deceivin' Blues. In 1951, Little Esther and Otis had a falling out, reportedly over money, which led to her departure from his show, In 1954, she returned to Houston to live with her father, having experimented with hard drugs developing a definite addiction to heroin. Short on money, Little Esther worked in small nightclubs around the South, punctuated by periodic hospital stays in Lexington, Kentucky, stemming from her addiction.