She began winning talent shows up and down Fillmore Street at 18, when she weighed just 85 pounds, wore size 3 shoes and went by her given name, Umpeylia Marsema Balinton.
Her first hit, in 1959, rose to number 3 on the Billboard charts. She sang with greats like Etta James, opened for James Brown and took on a stage name, Sugar Pie DeSanto. Now at age 78, she lives in Oakland and still sings the blues.
SUGAR PIE DESANTO: You could be feeling down in the dumps, but a song can pick you up, maybe not for long, but you release the tension. You can sing it away. . . . That’s how I soothe my nerves. If something made me mad, or I don’t feel good, I just sing it away. It’s my life. It’s the power of a song, and it can take you anywhere you want to go.
Listen on the audio player above for the full interview.