Ketty Lester (born Revoyda Frierson, August 16, 1934) is an American singer and actress, who is best 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.
The daughter of a farmer, she was born in Hope, Arkansas, one of a family of 15 children, and first sang in her church and school choirs. She won a scholarship to studymusic 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. She was introduced by the singer and comedienne Dorothy Shay to record producers and songwriters Ed Cobb andLincoln 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 anddisc 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 in all, and in 1991 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 theBest 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 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.
"Love Letters" was used in the 1986 David Lynch film Blue Velvet and in the 2012 Andrew Dominik film Killing Them Softly. The concept of love letters as bullets had been referred to by the psychopathic character of Frank Booth played by Dennis Hopper in the film, and Lester's song was used to great effect in the climactic final scene when Booth is killed.
In the late 1960s or early '70s Lester gave up singing commercially and turned to acting. She was reportedly offered the role eventually taken by Diahann Carroll in the 1968 TV series Julia, and appeared in a variety of movies including Up Tight! (1968), Blacula (1972), Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975). She established herself as a television actress in the 1970s and 1980s, playing the roles of "Helen Grant" in the soap opera, Days of our Lives from 1975 to 1977, and "Hester-Sue Terhune" on the NBC television series Little House on the Prairie from 1978 to 1983, as well as making short appearances in many other series. She recorded a Christian album, I Saw Him, in 1984, and, in 1994, played the role of Aunt Lucy in the film House Party 3.
|Year||Title||U.S. R&B Singles Chart||U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart||UK Singles Chart|
|1962||"Queen For A Day"||-||-||-|
|1962||"Love Letters" / "I'm A Fool To Want You"||2||5||4|
|1962||"But Not for Me"||-||41||45|
|1962||"You Can't Lie To A Liar"||-||90||-|
|1962||"This Land Is Your Land"||-||97||-|
|1964||"Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid"||-||-||-|
|1964||"Please Don't Cry Anymore"||-||-||-|
|1964||"I Trust You Baby"||-||-||-|
|1964||"You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Crazy)"||-||-||-|
|1965||"(Looking For A) Better World"||-||-||-|
|1965||"I'll Be Looking Back"||-||-||-|
|1966||"When A Woman Loves A Man"||-||-||-|
|1968||"I Will Lead You"||-||-||-|
|1968||"Measure Of A Man"||-||-||-|
|1984||"One Day At A Time"||-||-||-|
|1984||"Have You Heard?"||-||-||-|
- Love Letters - 1962
- Betty Everett & Ketty Lester - 1964 (one side each)
- The Soul Of Me - 1964
- Where Is Love? - 1965
- When A Woman Loves A Man - 1966
- Ketty Lester - 1969
- Ketty Lester In Concert - 1977
- A Collection Of Her Best - 1982
- "I Saw Love" - 1984