Sugar Pie DeSanto


What would music be like without the Wild Women that have laid the foundation and those that keep the wildness flowing?  We’d honestly never encountered this singing and dancing no-nonsense woman until just recently, and now,Sugar Pie DeSanto, is a mainstay.

Umpeylia Marsema Balinton was born October 16, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York to an African American mother and a Filipino father.   Her parents moved their eleven children to San Francisco, California, early on in her life.

In 1955, DeSanto did some touring with The Johnny Otis Revue, and Otis gave her her stage name.  From 1959-1960, she toured with The James Brown Revue, where she was once called “Lady James Brown.”  Every night, Sugar Pie whipped the crowd in to a frenzy that he needed to make sure to step up his performance to avoid a letdown. “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” later said that Sugar Pie made him “wooork!” Also part of the act for the Godfather of Soul was Tina Turnerwho once asked Sugar Pie why she was getting all the applause. Sugar Pie replied, “You gotta mooove girl!”

Living in California, she grew up with Etta James, and when DeSanto’s first marriage to Pee Wee Kingsley fell apart, she moved to Chicago, where both Sugar Pie and Etta were signed to Chess Records. They  sang three powerful duets: (Do I Make Myself Clear, Somewhere Down The Line, and In The Basement.) All became hits. While Etta is a household name, Sugar Pie became the hidden gem.  Sugar Pie wrote most of her songs, in addition to others for well-known musicians like Fontella Bass, Little Milton, Billy Stewart, Minnie Riperton and many more.

It is said that her stage performances far surpassed her studio recordings, at 4’11” Sugar Pie was small but, she sure carried her own.

Words from Howl Growl Moan

Picture Sources: Blues Blog (Tumblr), Soul Train (Tumblr), Classic Ladies of Color (Tumblr)