Sugar Pie DeSanto
 Down In The Basement ... that's where I would like to be with Sugar Pie DeSanto ... at one of her concerts ... sometime in the 60s ... if you know at least her Chess album, which covers songs from that era, you know what I mean ...

I discovered Sugar Pie on Vinyl's 2004 album "All The Way Live" where Sugar Pie performs "In The Basement" with Vinyl. I did some search and dug out several of her recordings and it's amazing what kind of treasures can be found in San Francisco if one takes a closer look. And it's a shame as well, that some artists never get the attention they deserve, simply because they follow their own rules and don't sell their souls for fame and fortune. So please take your time to read this way too short Sugar Pie DeSanto entry - you won't be dissappointed.

Sugar Pie DeSanto was born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton, October 16, 1935. Her African American mom and her Filipino dad are responsible for her good looks, talent and great voice. Her mother was a concert pianist and taught Umpeylia how to sing - as she did with all her 10 children.

In the early 50s 19-year-old Umpeylia was discovered by Johnny Otis (some call him "The Godfather of Rhythm and Blues") at a talent show. Otis is also responsible for Umpeylia's stage name as he named her "Little Miss Sugar Pie" (in reference to her height). The name "DeSanto" was added years later by Oakland disc jockey Don Barksdale.

With Johnny Otis she recorded her first single for Federal Records in 1955. From there she would team up with Pee Wee Kingsley in 1957 and record her biggest hit "I Want To Know" (written by Sugar Pie & Bob Geddins) which climbed to #4 on Billboard's list of R&B best-sellers in 1960 when Chess picked up the single from Geddins' Veltone label for national distribution.

Next came the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, who discovered Sugar Pie when she was on tour at the Apollo Theater in New York - sharing the bill with him and Ike & Tina Turner. James Brown asked her to join his show and Sugar Pie toured with Brown for the next two years.

 

James Brown, Sugar Pie, 1961
 Due to her strong writing skills and her hit record "I Want To Know" Sugar Pie started recording and writing for Chicago's Chess/Checker label. As a matter of fact Chess used her more for writing songs than recording. The reason is quite simple, Chess wanted to protect the success of other female Chess artists like Etta James, who is actually Sugar Pie's younger cousin but had an earlier contract with Chess. Thus Sugar's material - she cut 30-plus sides for Chess - got shelved. Nevertheless she stayed seven years with Chess and wrote songs for artists like Little Milton, Fontella Bass, Minnie Ripperton, Billy Stewart, Sam and Dave, Etta James. Sugar has actually written several hundred tunes on her own.

Basically all Sugar Pie released in the 50s/60s were a few singles or then called sides for the labels (see discography link at the bottom of this page), as complete albums were hardly released then. Though, Sugar released several singles for Chicago's Checker Records and Checker used these cuts to release Sugar Pie's first self-titled album in 1961 - which is a collectors gem these days. Chartwise the album didn't do much.

Another highlight in Sugar Pie's career was her tour with the American Folk Blues Festival to Europe in 1964 where she was the only female artist. Other artists included Willie Dixon, John Henry Barbee, Sleepy John Estes, Clifton James, Sunnyland Slim, Hubert Sumlin, Lightnin Hopkins and Sonny Boy Williamson. As Sugar got the chance to join these famous artists on a European tour one can estimate the amount of talent she has. Chess obviously didn't care to make more out of Sugar Pie and she left Chicago at the beginning of the 70s.

Sugar Pie returned to to the Bay Area and started to play the San Francisco blues circuit where she got the title "the Queen of San Francisco blues" and won the 1999 BAMMIES Regional Award for Best Female Blues Artist. This is an honour of course but the focus is completely on Sugar's blues skills - she has more to offer though, as she performs several styles like soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop ... you name it. Plus, her famous back flips make her an artist as well.

Back in the Bay Area Sugar Pie also recorded several tunes and in 1984 the album "Hello, San Francisco" (featuring recordings she made between 1968 and 1983) was released by Jasman Records . This Oakland label was founded by Sugar Pie's manager James C. Moore. Nowadays the LP is an collectors item as well, but many of the songs can be found on the CDs Jasman released in later years: "Sugar is Salty" in 1993, "Classic Sugar Pie" in 1997 and "A Slice Of Pie" in 1999. Although many of the tracks were recorded with Sugar being in her 60s, it is amazing how fresh they sound.

In 2005 Jasman Records released "Sugar Refined" - an album that once again shows the best sides of Sugar Pie DeSanto. The album is a mix between pop and blues and much fun to listen to. I hope by now you say "I Want To Know" who that Sugar Pie is. Please check the discography/links underneath and try to get one of her albums. I highly recommend the "Down In The Basement" CD if you can get it. Plus, if you are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area try to catch one of her shows - as Sugar is alive and well. Thanks to Sugar Pie for being a true artist!!!

 

Discography (Albums)
  • 1961 Sugar Pie
  • 1984 Hello, San Francisco
  • 1989 Down In The Basement
  • 1993 Sugar Is Salty
  • 1997 Classic Sugar Pie
  • 1999 A Slice Of Pie
  • 2005 Refined Sugar
    (complete discography see link at bottom of the page)
  • Sugar PieSugar Pie DeSanto
    Sugar Pie

    (Checker Records 1961)

    Can't Let You Go -- It's Done And Forgotten -- It Won't Be Long -- Maybe You'll Be There -- Going Back To Where I Belong -- Wish You Were Mine -- I Want To Know -- I Don't Feel Sorry -- Tell Me What's The Matter -- The Twelfth Of Never -- It's Not For Me To Say -- I Still CareTry
    eBay
    GEMM
    ...
    Hello, San FranciscoSugar Pie DeSanto
    Hello, San Francisco

    (Jasman Records 1984)

    How Many Times -- A Matter OF Time -- Mama -- Straighten It Out With Your Man -- Git Back -- Dialog -- Hello, San Francisco (Part I) -- Hello, San Francisco (Part II) -- Strange Feeling -- Enemy -- Wha'd You Do That For? -- Keep Your Women's Lib

    Recorded between 1967 and 1983.

    Musicians: Sugar Pie DeSanto, Bill Bell, Lonnie Hewitt, Ed Kelley, Harley White, Keith Jones, Ray Drummond, Terry Hilliard, Curtis Olson, James Cotton, Smiley winters, William Kennedy, Frank Samuels, Marvin Holmes, Carl Lockett, Johnny Tolbert, Eddie Foster, Lafayette (The Thing) Thomas, Larry Blackshire, Stroakland Strings, John Parrish, Johnny Coppola, James May, Dean Boysen, tim McGown, George Alexander, Kevin Lockett, Larry Batiste, Charles Hamilton, Pat O'Hara, Richerson Claytoven, Morris Atchison, Bob Ferrera, Larry Lennear, C.L. Jones, Marvin Barboa, Jules Broussard, Snookie, Cleveland Doizer, Jewells Nickelson, Fran White, Elaine Jones, Kenneth Nash, Stuart Gronningen

    Try
    eBay
    GEMM
    ...
    Down In The BasementSugar Pie DeSanto
    Down In The Basement

    (Chess/MCA Records 1989)

    In The Basement, Part One (Duet with Etta James) -- I Want To Know -- Mama Didn't Raise No Fool -- Maybe You'll Be There -- Do I Make Myself Clear (Duett with Etta James) -- Ask Me* -- Use What You Got* -- Can't Let You Go -- Soulful Dress -- Going Back To Where I Belong -- She's Got Everything -- Slip-In Mules

    Recorded between 1959 and 1965 (*CD bonus tracks).

    Musicians (some personnel unknown): Sugar Pie DeSanto, Etta James, Pee Wee Kingsley (Band), Riley Hampton's Orchestra, The Louisiana Jemms, Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston, Gerald Sims, Louis Satterfield, Maurice White, Joe Hudson (Band), ...

    Sugar Is SaltySugar Pie DeSanto
    Sugar Is Salty

    (Jasman Records 1993)
    Boom-Boom Song -- Super Fool -- How Many Times -- Steppin' Out -- Close The Door -- Enemy -- I Want To Know -- See The Light -- Hello, San Francisco (Part I) -- Hello, San Francisco (Part II) -- Boyfriend -- What Makes You Think

    Musicians: Sugar Pie DeSanto, Ron E. Beck, John F. Turk, Donnie Beck, Danney Hull, Clifford Coulter, Lloyd Gregory, Greg Crockett, Jimmy Owens, Bonnie Owens, Hajji Sabrie, Jeannie Tracy, Skylark, ...

    Classic Sugar PieSugar Pie DeSanto
    Classic Sugar Pie

    (Jasman Records 1997)
    Bread & Butter -- I Still Care -- Jump In My Chest -- I Don't Want to Fuss -- Use What You Got -- Don't Worry About Me -- Mama Didn't Raise No Fool -- Crazy Lovin' -- Ask Me -- There's Gonna Be Trouble -- Never Say Die

    Musicians: Sugar Pie DeSanto, Brian Quezerque, Sam Henry, Charles Moore, Bernard "Bunchy" Johnson, Jamil Shanrif, Brian E. Murray, Joe Saulsbury, Carl Lockett, Danon C. smith, Kaye Dorian, Charlotte Lang, Sue McCracklin, Maureen Smith, Tia Carroll

    A Slice Of PieSugar Pie DeSanto
    A Slice Of Pie

    (Jasman Records 1999)
    Shoppin' Cart Blues -- Keep It Like It Is -- Straighten It Out With Your Man -- Hello, San Francisco (Part I) -- Hello, San Francisco (Part II) -- Git Back -- Face The Hard Times -- Goodbye -- Blues Express (Part I) -- Blues Express (Part II)

    Musicians: Sugar Pie DeSanto, Billy Dunn, D. Parnell, Michael Skinner, Dale Whitmore, Steve Cannon, Gene Pittman, Aaureen Antoinette, Linette McCracklin, Angela Palmer, Roy Tyler, Lonnie Hewitt, harley White, Morris Atchison, Bob Ferrera, Johnny Coppola, Johnny Talbot, Eddie Foster, Jewells Nichelson, Fran White, Lafayette Thomas, John Parrish, James May, Richard Claytoven, Larry Lennear, C.J. Jones, James Cotton, Ed Kelley, Curtis Olson

    Refined SugarSugar Pie DeSanto
    Refined Sugar

    (Jasman Records 2005)
    Matter Of Time -- Blues Hall Of Fame -- Somebody Screams -- Life Goes On -- Nobody's Home -- How Many Times -- Gimme A Penny -- Black Rat -- Darkness To The Light -- Git Back -- I Don't Care -- I Need Help -- I Need To Live Again -- Odds

    Musicians: Sugar Pie DeSanto, Lonnie Hewitt, Johnny Tolbert, Eddie Foster, James Cotton, Harley White, Johnny Coppola, Sugar G. Robinson, Rusty Allen, Minor Williams, Steve Gannon, Greg Crockett, Larry James, Michael Skinner, Carlos Zialcita, Mark Cvitkovich, William Bell, Stroakland Strings, Jules Broussard, Morris Atchison, Maureen Antoinette Smith, Linette McCracklin, Tia Caroll

     

    Further Links:

  • Official Website by Jasman Records
        Sugar Pie DeSanto's official label.

  • Sugar Pie DeSanto @ MySpace

  • Complete Discography
        Looks like the best Sugar Pie discography on the net.

  • Roctober Magazine
        Wonderfull 1999 article on Sugar Pie DeSanto.

  • SF Chronicle on Sugar Pie DeSanto
        A 2004 article on Sugar Pie's cooperation with Gail Muldrow.

  • Gimme a little sugar ...
        Another article on Sugar Pie.

     

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