As we draw back the light as a resource close to Christmas in the early days of Capricorn season, we continue to knock out Birthday Wishes. Today we celebrate the 80th Birthday of Capricorn Princess of Soul, Esther Phillips. Although she’s far often too overlooked today, she was decidedly one of the earliest pioneers of Soul Music.
In the same age/sound bracket as Etta James, Sugar Pie DeSanto and others, she made her headway in 1949 as Little Esther Phillips, reaching the top of the R&B charts with “Double Crossing Blues” the following year. From there it was 35 years of personal and professional ups and downs. Esther never really stopped recording though. All the way up to her death from Kidney/Liver failure in 1984, she gave the world an expansive, almost tireless catalog of song interpretation, wide as her inspirations like Dinah Washington, more extensive than some of her peers.
Her success in the 1950’s was decidedly in the R&B field, but after her adult establishing success with “Release Me” in 1962, she more or less waltzed around Soul, Pop, Countrypolitan and Jazz. Although the chart hits weren’t always mighty, and her drug addiction issues put her compromising positions more often than not, she was never really ever without a record deal or gigs to play.
To say that she often wove spells and magic with her song interpretation craft is a no-brainer. One of her most majestic portraits is this 3 1/2 mini-Soap Opera she did part of a 3 single deal with Roulette Records in 1969. A wise, world weary 35 year old Phillips preparing herself for the eventual heartbreak of sleeping with a fickle lover, Esther works the freshly allowed explicit nature of the lyric with judicious vulnerability, breathing all of the air and fire into each line. Strong enough that she seems to change the story line at the end of the song into her favor.
In the master classes of story interpretation through song, one really owes themselves an opportunity to get familiar with one of Soul’s most underrated professors. Happy Birthday Esther.