Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16: Singer and actress Ketty Lester - "Love Letters" - is 79-years-old today.

Love Letters

The daughter of a farmer, Revoyda Frierson – later to be professionally known as Ketty Lester -  was born in Hope, Arkansas. She won a scholarship to study music at San Francisco State College, and in the early 1950s began performing under the name Ketty Lester in the city's Purple Onion club. She later appeared as a contestant on the game show You Bet Your Life, and toured Europe as a singer with Cab Calloway's orchestra.

Returning to California, she recorded her first single, "Queen For A Day,” for the Everest label. In 1961 Era Records released her single, "I'm a Fool to Want You" b/w "Love Letters.” Radio listeners and disc jockeys preferred the B-side, a reworking of a 1945 hit by Dick Haymes, and Lester's recording of "Love Letters,” which featured Lincoln Mayorga's sparse piano arrangement and Earl Palmer on drums. It rose to # 5 in the Billboard Hot 100 early in 1962, selling over one million copies in all, and in 1991 was ranked 176th in the RIAA-compiled list of Songs of the Century.

Her follow-up, a version of George and Ira Gershwin's "But Not for Me" from the musical Girl Crazy, reached # 41 in the US pop charts and # 45 in the UK. She released an album, Love Letters, which contained the tracks "You Can't Lie to a Liar" and a cover of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" - both of which were issued as singles which scraped into the bottom of the Hot 100 - and was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category.

After signing with RCA, she released several unsuccessful singles, and two albums, The Soul of Me and Where Is Love?, in a more R&B-oriented style. Some of her earlier recordings also featured on one side of an album shared with previously-released tracks by Betty Everett. Also in 1964, she won a Theatre World Award for her performance in the off-Broadway show Cabin in the Sky.

She then moved to the Tower label, issuing a single and album, When A Woman Loves A Man, an answer record to Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman.” However, these releases, and later records for the Pete label including a 1968 album, Ketty Lester, met with little commercial success. She recorded a Christian album, I Saw Him, in 1984.


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