Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman meets a woman who became the youngest singer to score a number one hit on the R&B charts.
You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Friday on KXT and Saturday on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you.
And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KERA radio’s 90.1 at Night.
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Little Esther Phillips was born in Galveston on Dec. 23, 1935. When she was still a child, her family moved to Los Angeles, where Phillips sang in the church choir and began competing in local talent shows. A popular Los Angeles bandleader named Johnny Otis heard Phillips perform and signed her to a recording contract when she was only 14. Her 1950 hit song “Double Crossing Blues” made her the youngest R&B singer to top the national charts. Little Esther Phillips toured for a while with Otis and continued to produce hit records. In 1954, she moved to Houston. Although she struggled with drug addiction and a slump in record sales, she managed to revive her musical career in the 1960s. Phillips recorded a string of minor hits and had several high-profile performances, including a 1965 BBC TV show with the Beatles and subsequent appearances at the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Phillips earned a Grammy nomination in 1973 for Best R&B Performance by a Female Vocalist.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll learn about a folk songwriter who became a somewhat reluctant pop superstar.