Esther Phillips (born Esther Mae Jones; December 23, 1935 – August 7, 1984) was an American singer, best known for her R&B vocals. She rose to prominence in 1950, scoring several major R&B hits including “Double Crossing Blues” and “Mistrustin’ Blues” under the moniker “Little Esther”. In the 1960s, she achieved chart success with the country song “Release Me” and recorded in the pop, jazz, blues and soul genres. Phillips received a Grammy nomination for her single “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” in 1973 and her disco recording of “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” was a major hit in 1975. She died from liver and kidney failure due to long-term drug abuse in 1984.
Phillips was born Esther Mae Jones in Galveston, Texas, U.S. Her parents divorced during her adolescence, and she divided her time between her father, in Houston, and her mother, in the Wattssection of Los Angeles. She was brought up singing in church and was reluctant to enter a talent contest at a local blues club, but her sister insisted. A mature singer at the age of 14, she won the amateur talent contest in 1949 at the Barrelhouse Club, owned by Johnny Otis. Otis was so impressed that he recorded her for Modern Records and added her to his traveling revue, the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, billed as Little Esther. She later took the surname Phillips as her stage name, reportedly inspired by a sign at a gas station.