Although Revoyda Frierson acted on such TV shows as “Little House on the Prairie” and “Sanford and Son,” the Southwest Arkansas native is perhaps best remembered for her hit “Love Letters.”
Frierson is also better know by her stage name: Ketty Lester.
She was born Aug. 16, 1934, in Hope, one of 15 children.
As a teen-ager, Lester moved to San Francisco to study nursing. She continued singing and acting in plays — and adopted her stage name.
The Hempstead County native would record for several labels, including RCA and Capitol Records’ Tower division. Lester’s sultry vocals were usually set to swinging pop arrangements with strings and horns that would be at home on any Rat Pack hi-fi.
But her acting career also flourished — and eventually eclipsed her singing career. Lester continued performing on the stage, and became a regular on TV’s “Little House on the Prairie” and “Days of Our Lives.” She also appeared on other iconic TV shows such as “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “Love American Style,” “Sanford and Son,” “That Girl,” “Hill Street Blues” and “Laugh-In.”
Lester’s aching torch ballad “Look for Me (I’ll Be Around)” was covered in 2002 by Neko Case. Lester would chart a few other times, but her first hit, and landmark song, is “Love Letters.” Her version hit the top 5 in 1962 on the independent label Era Records.
“Love Letters” was written for a movie of the same name starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten. In 1945, the song was a hit for Dick Haymes. “Love Letters” has been recorded by artists as diverse — and numerous — as Elvis Presley, Sonny Rollins, Joe Walsh, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Steve Lawrence, Liberace, Don McLean, Ike Turner and Dinah Washington and many others. Even former Sex Pistol Steve Jones released a surprisingly faithful version in 1987.
Ironically, Lester’s version of “Love Letters” was issued as the B-side to a single. The “plug” song on side A was “I’m a Fool to Want You.” But in a move that would be frowned upon in today’s corporate radio, enterprising DJs flipped the record over to air “Love Letters,” and it clicked with listeners. The surprise hit song became Lester’s commercial and artistic peak — at least of her musical career.
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by Stephanie Smittle, Lindsey Millar, Stephen Koch and Leslie Newell Peacock
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