Books and articles by and about the actors who starred in the Little House on the Prairie TV series provide a behind-the-scenes look at the show and how it affected the lives of the people making it. Here is a brief overview of Ketty Lester: From The Cotton Fields To Grammy Nominated “Love Letters” to Little House on the Prairie.
Author: Ketty Lester
Publisher: Elite Publishing House (2020)
God has blessed Ketty Lester to achieve so much in her lifetime. Growing up in the cotton fields of Little Rock, Arkansas, to her first performance at the infamous Purple Onion in San Francisco, California, with wonderful greats like Maya Angelou and Phyllis Diller, she is most remembered for her 1962 recording of “Love Letters Straight From Your Heart,” also known as “Love Letters,” which stayed on the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom for three years and rerecorded by many artists. The next most-remembered performance was the first horror movie for Blacks in 1972, which was Blacula. She was a lead, playing Juanita Jones, a vampire. The third role, which was her last, longest-running television series, was Hester-Sue Terhune on the “Little House on the Prairie” from 1977 to 1983. She played the only black female teacher in the series. Between the Purple Onion and “Little House on the Prairie,” Ketty Lester’s life bubbled over with successes, accolades, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with many of the “firsts” Blacks in Hollywood to appear in television commercials, on daytime soap operas, and to co-star in Julia, the first weekly series to depict an African American woman, Diahann Carroll, in a non-stereotypical role. Though Ketty enjoyed one acting role after another and releasing multiple albums and singles, life was no crystal stairs or a bed of roses. As you share this journey with Ketty, so will agree that she is a great role model and that she puts the “T” in triumph.
About the Author: Ketty Lester:
A true pioneer charts her journey from the cotton fields to the billboard charts and even a Grammy nomination that she didn’t learn of until 60 years after the fact… Ketty shares her story, in her own words, about how she remained hopeful, loving, and devoted even after being failed time and again by those whom she trusted.
Once upon a time, in the 1950s, a young woman was singing in nightclubs and performing on both coasts. She shared the stage with the likes of Maya Angelou, and Tom and Dick Smothers. One day, she was invited to a little jam session, a rehearsal of sorts, to lay down a few tracks in an old garage. She was basically cajoled into doing it, and it was fun. Then, she shrugged her shoulders, walked away, and thought nothing more about it.
That song, Love Letters, would become a number one hit and the signature piece that drove the career of Ketty Lester. It was powerful enough to stand alongside recordings by industry luminaries of the time. Yes, Ketty Lester was nominated for a Grammy award and her fellow nominees were Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald. Only Ketty didn’t discover this until 60 years later!
Eventually, this extraordinarily talented young woman was offered a support gig on tour with the legendary Cab Calloway, which took her across the United States and all over Europe. Upon her return, she was told that the little song she had sung in a California garage was now number 32 in Boston, and even climbing the charts in the UK. But she wasn’t even aware she had a record out! A fairy godmother was nowhere in sight…but a handsome Prince was just around the corner.
Ketty Lester’s story reads like a fairy tale. This granddaughter of a slave had a chance to escape the Arkansas fields in which she worked, by winning a music scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock Arkansas. However, putting family first, which would become a running theme in her life won out. Ketty ended up accompanying her brother and younger sister to San Francisco where she enrolled in nursing school. Once there, her role changed from student to caretaker, and they were forced to leave their brother’s home and struggle to make it on their own. Out of necessity, Ketty did a bit of singing and joined theatre groups and performance troops and soon found herself singing at the one and only Purple Onion, and later, was one of the first to open in its second location in Los Angeles. She shared the stage with women who would go on to break barriers and become “firsts” in their fields like Phyllis Diller and the aforementioned Maya Angelou. But Ketty, too, was a woman of firsts. In her fairy tale life, the nemesis was not a wicked witch, it was the spectre of racism and unfulfilled love. The poison apple didn’t send her into a deep slumber; just the opposite. It made her struggle on, through heartache and hardship, and out of necessity, she took many other roads to feed her family and fill the hole left in her broken heart. Love Letters would prove to be not just a song, but the true story of Ketty’s life, about a road not taken because of the prejudices of the day, yet it would lead to more roads still, paved with triumphs and heartache alike.
Today’s volatile social and political climate has produced an awareness of injustices that have been done, and thus, shine the light on unsung heroes of the past. Sadly, many of them are gone and only a sparse narrative remains, but Ketty Lester is still with us. She is still vibrant, still engaging, still dynamic, and she is ready to share her story of how a woman of color, granddaughter of a slave and sharecropper, became a chart-topping RnB artist, the first woman of color to appear in a daytime soap opera, and later win a role on one of the most popular primetime series in the ‘70s, “Little House on the Prairie.” Ketty was a pioneer in real life, not only for women of color but for all women. Her love and determination, her faith and altruism, brought her to the top. Her strength kept her going, no matter how much she was exploited and was ultimately forgotten. Her voice is still strong and she is here to tell her story. Ketty Lester is a true hero, and an example of how against all odds, a woman can triumph through racial prejudice, sexism, and misogyny and live to tell her story to a new generation, so that they may see that it never, ever happens again.
Pick up your own copy of Ketty Lester: From The Cotton Fields To Grammy Nominated “Love Letters” to Little House on the Prairie here.
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