Classics: Esther Phillips – What A Diff’rence A Day Makes (Kudu Records)
We said of Esther Phillips‘ version of ‘What A Diff’rence A Day Makes’ that she turned it into an early Disco classic. But by “Disco”, you’ve got to understand music meant to be played in the then burgeoing discotheques. And this more than a specific rhythmic format. Besides it happened to be far from the first cover version of this song which Dinah Washington popularized back in 1959. Eventually getting a Grammy Award for her performance.
‘What A Diff’rence A Day Makes’ dates from way beyond as a matter of fact. It appeared back in 1934, originally in Spanish and titled ‘Cuando vuelva a tu lado’. With writing working courtesy of Mexican songwriter Maria Grever. Its English lyrics comin’ courtesy of Stanley Adams. With Cleveland crooner Jimmy Ague being the first to record it as, soon after.
Just the way she did with Gil Scott-Heron‘s ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, Esther Phillips pretty much made ‘What A Diff’rence A Day Makes’ for herself. Comin’ up with one of her biggest successes ever in the early days of Disco. And, in the meantime the title track of her 1975 album of the likes. Surrounded by her long time producer Creed Taylor and an impressive list of musicians. From the late Jazz guitarist Joe Beck to David Sanborn and the Brecker brothers (Michael & Randy). Not to mention Steve Khan and Ralph McDonald among others…
A native of Galveston, TX, Esther Mae Jones grew up diving her life between her dad who was livin’ in Texas and her mom who relocated to California. She most likely got into singin’ at the church and had to have her sister pushin’ her to enter a talent contest at a local blues club. An already mature singer although only aged 14, she won the contest and eventually came to the attention of the location owner, Johnny Otis. The latter soon after addin’ her to his traveling revue, the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan.
She delivered her debut-single – ‘Double Crossin’ Blues’ – the year after (in 1950) on Savoy Records. This as Little Esther along with The Johnny Otis Quintet and The Robins. She would get regular success with her partners in crime during the 50’s before switching to Federal Records.
A choice which happened to be unsuccessful. With one cut out of 30 attempts to be hitting the charts. This leading her to make a break for a couple of years. Meanwhile (already) fighting against an ongoing addiction to drugs. Despite a few releases on Atlantic Records where she happened to sign twice during the 60’s, she had to wait until the early 70’s to get back under the spotlights. This with the release of her ‘From A Whisper to A Scream’ 1971 debut-album for Kudu Records. An effort which spanned her cover version of Gil Scott-Heron‘s classic ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’. A performance which got her a nomination for a Grammy Award although she lost to Aretha Franklin.
Another few years on, and Phillips would get back one again under the spotlights. Takin’ on where Dinah Washington left with her Disco-styled update of ‘What A Diff’rence A Day Makes’. It would be her last significant success despite a few extra recordings during the 70’s and the 80’s.
Esther sadly passed at UCLA Medical Center in Carson, California on Aug. 07, 1984. This from liver and kidney failure due to drug addiction. She was 48…