Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Ketty Lester

Classic rock-and-roll music legend, Grammy nominee and “Theatre World Award”-winning singer/actress Ketty Lester is a living American treasure at 87 and among the last of her kind: the touring torch singers of the fabled and fabulous nightclub circuit in the 1950’s and ’60s. From Manhattan to Hollywood; San Francisco to Chicago, in the swankiest supper clubs and deluxe lounges coast-to-coast, she headlined them all as a diva supreme and a balladeer extraordinaire. Her sparse and soulful rendition of “Love Letters” in 1962 made her a household name from Los Angeles to London; on tour with the likes of the “Everly Brothers” and James Brown, from the Apollo Theater in Harlem to the soundstage of The Tonight Show in Los Angeles. When she segued to the musical stage in 1964, she made the cover of “Ebony” magazine for her role in the Lena Horne part of the first Off-Broadway revival of Cabin in the Sky. A recurring stint on the classic TV show Shindig (backed by Darlene Love and “The Blossoms”) preceded her groundbreaking role on Days of Our Lives as the first Black female lead in daytime TV history.  Between rehearsals for the soap opera, recording sessions at Gold Star studios and at Capitol Records, Ketty also managed to co-star in the cult classic Blacula with William Marshall in the title role and she as his first female victim/vampire. It was her transition to a completely different part however that she is most remembered by TV audiences around the world: as “Hester Sue Terhune” in Michael Landon’s long-syndicated series Little House on the Prairie. Recurring appearances on Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx and in Julia with Diahann Carroll kept Ketty a seasoned staple of the small screen, but her return to movies in House Party 3 with Bernie Mac cemented her status as a veteran entertainer that can portray both the revered and the irreverent with equal faith and fervor. From Sidney Poitier’s Uptown Saturday Night to Oprah Winfrey’s Brewster Place, Ketty Lester has remained a relentless force and reliable actress at any age. Her classic singing of “Love Letters” is featured in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and in the Brad Pitt thriller Killing Them Softly. In 2022, a classic clip of Ketty performing “Love Letters” was used in the first episode of the HBO series Winning Time: The Rise of The Laker’s Dynasty. In May of this year, Bryan Ferry of “Roxy Music” released his latest EP titled “Love Letters” in which he wails the Ketty classic in his own ghostly style (Ferry previously covered “River of Salt” originated by her, in 1973). Though “Love Letters” was famously covered by Elvis Presley in 1966 and shamelessly copied note-for-note by Alison Moyet in 1987, few have cared to credit Ketty as the inspiration for a generation of artists that dare to re-record her version in the vocal style and musical arrangement of the original international hit single from 60 years ago. Ketty was honored by the "Hollywood Heritage Museum" in 2022 for Black History Month ("Looking Back") with a sold-out event in which she also sang in public for the first time. In August of this year, she will perform her first concert engagement in over 50 years at the historic Gardenia lounge in Los Angeles. Later, in October, she will be feted for induction in the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.