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Ketty Lester

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Ketty Lester
Lester in 1958
Lester in 1958
Background information
Birth nameRevoyda Frierson
Born (1934-08-16) August 16, 1934 (age 89)
Hope, Arkansas, U.S.
GenresTraditional pop, R&B
Occupation(s)Singer, actress
Years active1957–present
LabelsEra, RCA, London

Ketty Lester (born Revoyda Frierson; August 16, 1934) is an American singer and actress known for her 1961 hit single "Love Letters", which reached the top 5 of the charts in the U.S. and the UK. She is also known for her role as Hester-Sue Terhune on the American television series Little House on the Prairie. In 2022 she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Ketty Lester was born Revoyda Frierson on August 16, 1934 in Hope, Arkansas.[2] Her parents were farmers who would eventually have a total of 15 children. As a young child, Lester first sang in her church, and later in school choirs. She won a scholarship to study music at San Francisco State College, and in the early 1950s, she began performing under the name "Ketty Lester" in the city's Purple Onion club. She later toured Europe and South America as a singer with Cab Calloway's orchestra.[3]

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.[4]

Returning to California, she recorded her first single, "Queen for a Day", for the Everest label.[5] 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 "Love Letters" b/w "I'm a Fool to Want You".[6]

Lester's recording of "Love Letters", which featured Lincoln Mayorga's sparse piano arrangement and Earl Palmer on drums,[5] rose to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 early in 1962.[6][7] The record also reached No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart, selling over 1 million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[8] In 1991, it was ranked 176th in the RIAA-compiled list of Songs of the Century.[6]

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 No. 41 in the U.S. pop charts and No. 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) and was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category.[6]

Lester continued to record for Era with little success until 1964, when she signed with 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.[9] 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 titled Ketty Lester, met with little commercial success.[5][6]

By the early 1970s, Lester gave up singing commercially and turned to acting. She was reportedly offered the role eventually taken by Diahann Carroll in the 1968–71 TV series Julia, and appeared in a variety of movies, including Uptight (1968), Blacula (1972), Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975).[10]

Lester established herself as a television actress in the 1970s and 1980s, playing the roles of Helen Grant on Days of Our Lives (1975–77) and as Hester-Sue Terhune on Little House on the Prairie (1977–83), and she appeared on other television shows and movies, including The Night the City Screamed (1980).

Lester recorded an album of gospel music titled I Saw Him in 1984, and returned to films, appearing in Street Knight (1993), and as Aunt Lucy in House Party 3 (1994).[10]



  • 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[5]


Year Title Chart positions Album
U.S. R&B[6] U.S. Hot 100[6] UK[11]
1962 "Queen for a Day"
b/w "I Said Goodbye to My Love"
Non-album tracks
"Love Letters"
b/w "I'm a Fool to Want You"
2 5 4 Love Letters
"But Not for Me"
b/w "Once Upon a Time" (from Love Letters)
41 45 Non-album tracks
"You Can't Lie to a Liar"
b/w "River of Salt"
"This Land Is Your Land"
b/w "Love Is for Everyone"
1963 "Fallen Angel"
b/w "Lullaby for Lovers" (Non-album track)
Love Letters
1964 "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid"
b/w "The House Is Haunted (by the Echo of Your Last Goodbye)"
127 Non-album tracks
"Roses Grow with Thorns"
b/w "Please Don't Cry Anymore"
"I Trust You Baby"
b/w "Theme from 'The Luck of Ginger Coffey'"
"You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Crazy)"
b/w "Variations on a Theme by Bird"
1965 "Pretty Lies, Pretty Make Believe"
b/w "(Looking for a) Better World"
"I'll Be Looking Back"
b/w "West Coast"
1966 "Secret Love"
b/w "Love Me Just a Little Bit"
"When a Woman Loves a Man"
b/w "We'll Be Together Again"
When a Woman Loves a Man
1968 "I Will Lead You"
b/w "Now That I Need Him"
Non-album tracks
1969 "Cracker Box Livin'"
b/w "The Measure of a Man"
"Show Me"
b/w "Since I Fell for You"
Ketty Lester
1984 "Jesus Laid His Hands on Me"
"One Day at a Time"
I Saw Love
"Have You Heard?"
b/w "She'd Never Heard of Anyone Called Jesus"



  1. ^ "Ketty Lester, James Thrower among Arkansas Black Hall of Fame inductees". 9 September 2022.
  2. ^ Colin Larkin, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Omnibus Press, 2011
  3. ^ "Ketty Lester (Era)". Billboard Music Week. March 31, 1962. p. 30. Cab Calloway caught one of her performances and added her to his troupe which toured extensively throughout South America.
  4. ^ Lester on You Bet Your Life, Youtube.com; accessed August 15, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e Ketty Lester discography, SoulfulKindaMusic.net; accessed August 15, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Ketty Lester Songs, Albums, Reviews, Bio & More". AllMusic. Retrieved 2024-02-07.
  7. ^ Profile, Oldies.com; accessed August 15, 2015.
  8. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 148. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  9. ^ Cabin in the Sky Archived 2007-09-13 at the Wayback Machine, lortel.org; accessed August 15, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Ketty Lester profile, imdb.com; accessed August 15, 2015.
  11. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952–2004 (1st ed.). London, UK: Collins. p. 447. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.

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