Ketty Lester (born Revoyda Frierson, August 16, 1934) is an American singer and actress, who is known for her 1962 hit single, “Love Letters”, which reached the Top 5 of the charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and her role in the American television series, Little House on the Prairie.
Life and career
The daughter of a farmer, she was born in Hope, Arkansas, one of 15 children, and first sang in her church and school choirs. 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 toured Europe as a singer with Cab Calloway’s orchestra.
Ketty Lester (as Revoyda Frierson) appeared as a contestant on the December 26, 1957 episode of You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. Lester sang “You Do Something to Me”. The chosen category was “Mother Goose”, a subject she admitted knowing nothing about; George Fenneman fed the correct answers to her and she and her partner won $1,000.
Returning to California, she recorded her first single, “Queen For A Day”, for the Everest label. She was introduced by Dorothy Shay to record producers and songwriters Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga, of The Four Preps and The Piltdown Men, who won her a contract with Era Records in Los Angeles. In 1961 they 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, rose to # 5 in the Billboard Hot 100 early in 1962.
The record also reached # 2 on the R&B chart, and # 4 in the UK Singles Chart, selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. In 1991, it was ranked 176th in the RIAA-compiled list of Songs of the Century.
In 1962 she toured the UK as support act on the Everly Brothers tour. The 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.
Lester continued to record for Era with little success until 1964, when she signed for RCA. She released several unsuccessful singles for that label, and two albums, The Soul of Me and Where Is Love?, in a more R&B-oriented style that has been compared to Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson. 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 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.