If Theme Time Radio Hour ever does a Sugar episode, I'll guarantee that the little lady with the wonderful name and the big voice - Sugar Pie DeSanto - will make an appearance. In his new book, "The Best Music You've Never Heard," Nigel Williamson writes of Sugar Pie...
Of all the great artists to record for Chicago's legendary Chess Records, perhaps the most unfairly overlooked is Sugar Pie DeSanto. She stood no more than 5ft tall – but as she shouted in one of her better-known songs, "if you know how to use what you got, it don't matter about your size".Much of Sugar Pie's ouevre is in print on CD and mp3 and can be found on Amazon.
With her razor-sharp, don't-mess-with-me delivery, she was every inch a match for similar red-hot mamas such as Koko Taylor and Etta James, and was a far superior singer to Tina Turner, with whom she toured. She was a better dancer, too, with a famous stage routine that included acrobatic back-flips. James Brown was so impressed that he asked her to be his support act and kept her on the road with him for two years.
Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton in San Francisco in 1935, she was dubbed "Little Miss Sugar Pie" by the bandleader Johnny Otis, who discovered her in a talent contest in the early 1950s. She eventually signed to Chess in 1960, but the label never really utilised her talent. In seven years on Chess, she recorded no more than 30 sides and released just one solitary LP.
It remains one of life's mysteries how such magnificent songs as "I Want To Know", "Soulful Dress", "Slip In Mules", "Do I Make Myself Clear" and "Use What You Got" remained so little heard. After parting company with Chess, DeSanto moved back to San Francisco where she remains a stalwart of the local blues circuit.