The Story and Music of Ketty Lester


Introduction to Ketty Lester

Ketty Lester is an American traditional pop/R&B singer and actress of the early 60s music era.  The Arkansas-born Lester (real name Revoyda Frierson) had been singing since she was young.  She was signed to Everest label where she recorded her first single “Queen for a Day.” In 1961 she moved to Era Records where she recorded and released the single “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “Love Letters,” which was a B-side.  But radio DJ’s and listeners alike favored the B-side better.  “Love Letters” eventually went to Top 10 charts in both the US and the UK.  Lester’s follow-up single “But Not for Me” just missed the Top 40 charts in 1962.  Her subsequent recordings with Era and then with RCA, proved to be commercially unsuccessful.  Lester gave up singing and in the 1960s, focused instead on acting.  She soon starred in movies such as Up Tight and Uptown Saturday Night, and became an established television actress throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Meet Ketty Lester

American singer and actress Revoyda Frierson professionally known as Ketty Lester was born on August 16, 1934 in Hope, Arkansas. She is one of the fifteen children raised by his farmer parents. Young Lester became a member of church and school choirs and received a scholarship at San Francisco State College where she studied music.

Lester as a recording artist with Era Records

By 1950’s, she started performing in clubs and using the alias Ketty Lester. During that time, she embarked on a tour across Europe with Cab Calloway’s orchestra. In late 1957, she was signed to Everest label where she recorded her debut single “Queen for a Day.” With the help of singer/comedienne Dorothy Shay, Lester was introduced to producers and songwriters Edd Cobb (Four Preps) and Lincoln Mayoga (The Piltdown Men) and secured her a contract with Era Records. She later issued her first era single “I’m a Fool to Want You” b/w “Love Letters” However, “Love Letter” was more preferred by disc jockeys and listeners. In early 1962, it resulted a remarkable spot on pop and R&B charts at #5 and #2 respectively. It also became a #4 hit in the UK and sold over one million copies there. With the success of her debut single, she had the chance to tour with the Everly Brothers as their opening act.

Later that year, Lester recorded a song from the musical Girl Crazy called “But Not for Me” and released it as her next single. Her version was a moderate chart hit at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100 while peaked at #45 on the U.K. chart. Not long thereafter, she released the LP Love Letters where she had two singles: “You Can’t Lie to a Liar” and “This Land is Your Land” (originally by Woody Guthrie). Unfortunately, these singles failed to sell.

Recordings with RCA and Pete Labels retirement from the music industry, and later acting career

In 1964, Lester left Era and switched to RCA RecordsAt this point, Lester’s sound leaned more into R&B. She released two albums on that label: The Soul of Me and Where is Love? containing singles which went unnoticed. Moving to Tower Records in 1964, she issued a single and an album of the same title, When a Woman Loves a Man (an answer song to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.”). In 1968 she was signed to Pete label and recorded a self-titled album. However, these two releases flopped. After that, Lester decided to quit singing and channeled her energy into acting. Since then, she had been appearing in several movies and television shows such as Up Tight!, Blacula, Uptown Saturday Night and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, to mention a few. Lester also made a few appearances on the popular daytime soap Days of Our Lives.

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