Actress Ketty Lester to be inducted into Arkansas Black Hall of Fame

The singer-songwriter, actress and author is reportedly the first African American woman to appear in a daytime soap opera.

Singer, actress, and author Ketty Lester will be inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame (ABHOF) on Saturday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. 

The annual induction ceremony and variety show will make an in-person return this weekend after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lester, 88, is one of six inductees for ABHOF’s 28th class, the organization announced Thursday. The event is typically held on the third Saturday of October and the class of 2022 will be inducted on Oct. 15 at Robinson Center Performance Hall.

Per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, other inductees include:

  • Sherman Banks — International citizen diplomat, honorary ambassador to Ghana, arts and education patron;
  • Dr. Joe L. Hargrove — Scientist, educator, philanthropist and medical practitioner;
  • Hattie Hill —  International business consultant, entrepreneur, philanthropic leader;
  • Dr. Gertrude Newsome Jackson (posthumous) —  Educator, social justice and civil rights leader;
  • James Thrower — NFL star, business, philanthropy and civic leader.

Lester is probably best known for playing teacher Hester-Sue Terhune in the popular 1970s-1980s TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” She was born Revoyda Frierson on August 16, 1934, on a farm in Arkansas, and was the youngest of 15 children. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Lester majored in nursing at the San Francisco City College and discovered her love of singing when she joined a theatre group to earn some extra money.

This ultimately led to her becoming a performer at The Purple Onion, a hugely popular club in San Francisco. She worked there along with poet Maya Angelou and comedian Phyllis Diller. Lester reportedly performed at the venue for a year before the club owners opened a new location In Hollywood and tapped her to serve as the headlining act. 

“So I opened that Purple Onion and I stayed there for about two years. Of course, Maya was still in San Francisco, but she did come to Los Angeles to be with me. And that was when she started writing her poems,” Lester recalled in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

Lester’s career seemingly took off after she moved to New York to pursue singing and acting as a full-time career. This is where she reportedly met pioneering performers like Sammy Davis Jr., Groucho Marks and Dorothy Shay, according to the Little House on the Prairie blog. Shay is credited for encouraging Lester to change her stage name. As reported by 50 Bold, Ketty reportedly became Lester’s showbiz surname after she secured a recording contract with the Everest label, which produced her first single, “Queen for a Day.” 

In 1962, Lester’s Grammy-nominated single “Love Letters” reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the U.K., it reportedly reached No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 4 on the Singles Chart, according to the Little House on the Prairie blog. She also made many TV and commercial appearances, noting that the late comedian Groucho Marx “was the first man that put me on television.”

Lester is reportedly the first African American woman to appear in a daytime soap opera and in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. Her small screen credits also include the popular 1972 blaxploitation horror film “Blacula.”

Lester unpacked her life and career in her 2020 book, “Ketty Lester: From Arkansas to Grammy Nominated ‘Love Letters’ to Little House on the Prairie” from Elite Publishing House.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Lester’s Hall of Fame induction came as quite a surprise.

“Basically my people in Arkansas didn’t know me because of the name change and stuff like that,” she told the outlet. “And they really didn’t know who I was. And I don’t know how they found out about Ketty Lester. But I think it was my manager here that wrote them and told them ‘Why don’t you have Ketty Lester in your Hall of Fame?’ … But it’s a pleasure to go back there.”

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