SPOTLIGHT ON LITTLE ESTHER - PART TWO
"Far Away Blues (Xmas Blues)"
"The Deacon Moves In"
Above: Little Esther on Cash Box Cover.
THE CASH BOX COVER, July 1, 1950: CAPTION WITH PICTURELittle lass causing all the smiles pictured above is none other than chirp Little Esther, whose string of wax winners has been going like wildfire on music machines. Her renditions of "Double Crossin' Blues" and "Mistrustin' Blues" brought the gal into the limelight, where today she occupies a top niche among performing artists. Among those pictured above, are, left to right: Mel Walker, William B. Allen, Johnny Otis and Redd Lyte. The entire group is currently engaged in a nationwide personal appearance and theater tour. Latest wax for Little Esther is "Cupid's Boogie," a number that has already started to catch on. Little Esther is exclusively featured on Savoy Records.
NOTE: The caption names only four of the other five in the picture. Mel Walker is pointing at the record and Johhny Otis has his hand on Esther's shoulder. William B. Allen was a record distributor located in New Orleans, who also ran a radio and phonograph store. Was he a promoter of this tour? Redd Lyte was a vocalist on Regent Records, a subsidiary of Savoy Records. Is the unidentified man (at top) a member of Otis' band (see also the "party" photo further below)? Little Esther is holding a "Free Sample" of a Savoy 78-rpm record.
THE BILLBOARD, January 20, 1951: King Signs Esther, Goes Into 45 Line
NEW YORKSid Nathan, King Records president, exploded a double header with the announcement that Little Esther, Savoy disk queen, would record henceforth for King. He also stated King was going 45. Confirmation of the Little Esther switch came this week when Herman Lubinsky, on the coast, stated he had signed Linda Hopkins to replace Little Esther. Latter scored highly in retail and juke sales charts of The Billboard during the past year....
NOTE: Little Esther had her records released on Federal, a King Records' subsidiary label.
THE CASH BOX, January 20, 1951: Little Esther Signs Contract With New Federal Label
NEW YORKBursting into the jazz and blues picture with a spurt, officials of Federal Records, King's new subsidiary, this week signed Little Esther to a recording contract. The Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County on January 5 appointed Lucille Washington, her mother, guardian for Little Esther and at the same time approved a new contract between the child singer and Federal, according to a statement by Federal executives. Little Esther is due to arrive in Cincinnati some time next week to make her first waxings on the new label. The session will be under the direction of Ralph Bass.
THE BILLBOARD, February 3, 1951: ....Little Esther's first date for Sid Nathan's King diskery was done with Nathan's recently inked vocal group, The Dominoes. Group's initial disking for Federal, the King affiliate, "Do Something For Me," is showing in the best-seller charts after only a month on the market....
THE BILLBOARD, June 30, 1951: Savoy Claims 50G On Esther
NEW YORKSavoy Records Topper, Herman Lubinsky, this week filed a reply and counterclaim to a suit brought against his diskery last month by rhythm and blues artist Little Esther, whose real name is Esther May Jones. Diskery alleges that the chanter was an unknown whose reputation as an artist was made via her Savoy recordings and at considerable expense and effort to the label. Diskery also claims that the singer broke her contract by signing with King label. Lubinsky asks $50,000 in damages, alleging that Little Esther's switch in labels financially hurt Savoy's unreleased masters. Diskery also asks an injunction to restrain further violations of the contract it claims to hold with the artist. Jack Cohen represents Savoy.
THE BILLBOARD, November 24, 1951: Mercury Adds 2 R.&B. Artists
CHICAGOMercury Records, which has been making rapid strides in the rhythm and blues field since Bobby Shad, formerly chief of Sittin' In diskery, New York, became director of Merc's jump wing, added two more important artists. Shad inked Little Esther and Johnny Otis' jump crew, both of whom got their start with Savoy and switched to King a year ago. Shad will cut the first session by both artists early in December in California. They will work together and do individual sides in the first waxing session. They inked five-year papers....
NOTE: It turned out to be Mel Walker and Otis who had the releases on Mercury with, apparently, none by Little Esther (or that included her).
PITTSBURGH COURIER, December 22, 1951: Billboard's Honoree Johnny Otis And Ork Ink 100-G Disctract
LOS ANGELESBack home for the holidays from a successful cross-country tour, Johnny Otis, his orchestra, entertainers and Little Esther are set for a series of recording sessions in Hollywood with Mercury label whom Otis just inked a long term $100,000 pact. Mercury has an extensive program mapped out for their newest star and his package attraction. Otis is regarded as one of the leading waxing artists in the business and last year won top honors from Billboard and Cash Box, trade magazines. While in the locale, Otis and his crew will play a series of one-nighters from Canada to Mexico including Christmas week at the Lincoln Theatre in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, band personnel will have an opportunity to enjoy the Yuletide holidays with their friends and families.
NEW YORK AGE, April 26, 1952: Little Esther, Otis Band Headline New ApolloThe hottest little unit in the country (show-wise) returns the the Apollo on Friday, April 25th, after an absense of a year and one week. The unit is, of course, Johnny Otis and his band, Little Esther, Mel Walker and the gang. Esther May Jones is known to thousands as Little Esther, and under that name she has, at the tender age of 16, achieved nationwide recognition as one of the nation's best blues singers. Mel Walker, who has been part of this unit since its inception, is a record star in his own right, although he has also been featured with Little Esther on many of her most popular sides. Newcomer Willie Mae Thornton, better known as "Big Mama" is a driving blues singer who's a house-rocker from the moment she gets on the stage....
THE CASH BOX, May 17, 1952: Little Esther & Savoy Settle Dispute By Arbitration
NEW YORKHerman Lubinsky, President of Savoy Records, and Little Esther have settled their contractual differences through arbitration decision of Frank Walker, president of MGM, it was learned this week. Rather than have their problem go through the courts, both parties decided to accept Walker as an arbitrator. The decision calls for Little Esther to get a lump sum in the neighborhood of $6,000 from Savoy. This figure is based on a disputed 650,000 records on which the artist gets 1 1/2 cents per record providing both sides were done by her and 3/4 of a cent if only one side was done by her.
TRADE MAGAZINE, November 1954: Singer Little Esther Held For Prostitution, DopeBlues singer Little Esther Jones was arrested for street-walking and suspicion of narcotics addiction by Los Angeles police. Police said the 19-year-old entertainer admitted to "hustling for the past few months" to keep up her dope habit, and told officers she had been on heroin for about four months, taking "a jolt every four days." The singer is an ex-star with the Johnny Otis band.
NEW YORK AGE, December 4, 1954: A SAD STORYOne of the very sad stories to come out of California during the past few weeks was that Little Esther had been arrested on the streets of Los Angeles for street walking. Her troubles began some time ago when she got trapped in a dope net. It seems just a little while ago that she was being hailed as the greatest child entertainer.
THE BILLBOARD, May 19, 1956: ...This week, the r.&b. trade will get its first listen in a long time to Little Esther. This talented thrush, who once rode the hit lists, but then dropped out of the picture, is making a comeback at the ripe old age of 19 on Savoy, the same label on which she got her start. It's recalled that back in 1950, Little Esther won an amateur contest in California and was called to the attention of Savoy's top Mahoff [important person], Herman Lubinsky. Herman cut a string of hits with the youngster, but in 1952 [sic] there was a legal hassle, her contract was proven invalid, and she ended up on Federal Records, and eventually out of the picture entirely. Now, she's reportedly back in good health, with Jimmy Evans handling the managerial reins, and Lubinsky guiding her disk fortunes once more.
[Little Esther died in 1984 from long-term drub abuse.]
Johnny Otis Orchestra.
Greenville (SC) News - April 1952.
Above: The Dominoes: From The Cash Box dated 12/23/50 - Federal Releases First Record
CINCINNATI, OHIORalph Bass, A&R man for Federal Records, kicks off his new label as he presents the first record off the press [notice it is a 78-rpm] to Bill Ward, leader and arranger of the Dominoes, a quartet which just waxed "Do Something For Me" backed by "Chicken Blues." Left to right are: Ralph Bass, Charles White, Clyde McPhatter, William Brown and Joseph Lamont. Bill Ward is at the piano.
Above: Little Esther is at the head of the table for this party. Conchita Nikkitani, entertainment writer for the Pittsburgh Courier, is second from the right. The woman next to Conchita looks a lot like her, a relative perhaps? Can anyone provide the names of any others at the table? The man seated at Little Esther's right (left of her in the photo) looks similar to the person in the Cash Box Cover picture near the top of this webpage.
EXTRA AUDIO (Windows Media Player):
[Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]
Above (L-R): Label image of Federal 12036-AA recorded on January 27, 1951 and released in July 1951; Little Esther; The Dominoes.
This is Little Esther's second record for Federal. It is her second (and last) released side with The Dominoes.
The Billboard Review (7/14/51): LITTLE ESTHER - THE DOMINOES FEDERAL 12036....
Heart To Heart (84) Little Esther is paired happily with the Dominoes for a winning reading of a fine oldie. It's the group's gasping lead voice [Clyde McPhatter] who steals the side. Has money-making feel.
Lookin' For A Man (To Satisfy My Soul) (75) Esther goes it herself on a fairly routine blues and does it pleasantly. [No vocal group]
Listen to "Heart To Heart" - Little Esther And The Dominoes - Federal 12036-AA - 1951.
Above: Label image of Savoy 764-A recorded in July 1950 released in October 1950. In her first stay at Savoy, Little Esther had six records released on the label, all in 1950, and one release on their subsidiary label, Regent, in 1951. She had several records released on Savoy when she returned to the label in 1956 until leaving again in 1959.
The Billboard Review (10/28/50):JOHNNY OTIS CONGREGATION SAVOY 764....
Wedding Boogie (85) This is a production piece with many amusing moments and featuring Little Esther and Lee Graves as well as Otis. Potentially a big one.
Far Away Blues (83) The sizzling hot Little Esther and Mel Walker team a Christmas blues which figures to be a coin grabber.
(NOTE: A ratings range of 80-89 was considered "excellent.")
The Billboard Review (12/20/52):JOHNNY OTIS CONGREGATION SAVOY 764.... [Reissue for the 1952 Christmas Season market?]
Wedding Boogie (75) In addition to Otis' combo, the disk boasts of Little Esther, Mel Walker and Lee Graves as "bride, groom and preacher." It's different alright and has some funny lines,
but it sounds better on the label than it does on the grooves.
Far Away Blues (74) The Esther-Walker-Otis team sound fine on a Christmassy blues ballad which could do some business.
(NOTE: A ratings range of 70-79 was considered "good.")
Above Left: Label image of Federal 12016-A recorded on January 27, 1951 and released in February 1951. The lead on this side is shared by Little Esther and Charlie White (of The Dominoes). The flip is Little Esther singing alone without any vocal group backing.
Little Esther had fifteen records on the Federal label (1951-53). Other labels for which she had record releases include Savoy (1950, 1956-59), Regent (1951), Decca (1953-54), Warwick (1960-61), and Lenox (1962). In November 1951, The Billboard reported that Little Esther and Johnny Otis had signed with Mercury, "the first [recording] session by both artists early in December," but no evidence of any releases that included her could be found on that label.
The Cash Box Award O' The Week (3/3/51):LITLE ESTHER FEDERAL 12016.... Other Lips, Other Arms/The Deacon Moves In
Little Esther smashes through with her first disk on the Federal label. Giving it all she has, Esther takes a tune called "Other Lips, Other Arms" and builds it into a terrific offering. Ops who go along with it will have something to offer their customers too, a platter which will delight them and bring in coins. Esther handles this ballad in a very slow sultry manner mouthing the lyrics very deliberatedly. With Earle Warrens' orchestra backing her up, the musical setting is just right. This one should get a tremendous play in the boxes. The second side called "The Deacon Moves In" is an interesting one also in that it unites Esther and the Dominoes. This side on ocassion rises to terrific heights with Esther and the boys turning in first rate vocals. Ops who want a sure money maker, better get this one into thier machines.
The Billboard Review (3/3/51):LITTLE ESTHER (EARLE WARREN ORK) FEDERAL 12016....
Other Lips, Other Arms (74) The young thrush debuts on Federal with an expressive, husky slow ballad job, with neat orking in back.
The Deacon Moves In (86) Dominoes quartet joins Little Esther for an exciting novelty performance that crashes to a wild climax. Could sweep.
(NOTE: A ratings range of 80-89 was considered "excellent.")
NOTE: Most discographical information provided at this website is from Ferdie Gonzalez' Disco-File.
Listen to this week's selections featuring Little Esther on Savoy/Federal from 1950/1951:
[Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]
[To download audio files, right-click on link and then select "Save (Link) Target As..."]
A. Stream RealAudio (DO NOT USE...LISTEN USING DOWNLOAD REALAUDIO)...
1. Wedding Boogie
2. Far Away Blues (Xmas Blues)
3. The Deacon Moves In
ALL THREE played in sequence
(December 1950 Clipping)
Click HERE for SPOTLIGHT ON LITTLE ESTHER (PART ONE OF TWO).
(Above link will open in a separate window)