Sugar Pie DeSanto | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sugar Pie DeSanto 

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SUGAR PIE DESANTO

Sugar Pie DeSanto first hit the national R & B charts in 1960 with "I Want to Know," a single for Oakland's Veltone label, but she's best known for her later work on Checker, a Chess subsidiary. "Slip-In Mules," her sassy reply to Tommy Tucker's "Hi-Heel Sneakers," lasted 14 weeks on the Cash Box chart in 1964; subsequent outings like "Soulful Dress" and "Go Go Power" also sold well, but after 1966's "In the Basement," a feisty bad-girl anthem that paired her with Etta James, DeSanto faded from the national scene. In the last few years she's launched a comeback, and she seems determined to avoid the nostalgia trap: 1993's Sugar Is Salty and last year's Classic Sugar Pie (both on Jasman) are arresting fusions of tradition and experimentation. "Jump in My Chest" and the string-drenched ballad "How Many Times," for example, would fit comfortably in the repertoire of any retro southern soulster; but "Boom-Boom Song" embraces hip-hop even as DeSanto's lyrics wittily chide the genre's excesses, and "Super Fool" is a hard-edged blues augmented by heavy synthesizer. DeSanto's voice has thickened over the years, but she can still ascend from sultry to sanctified in a single phrase, and her rhythm is unerring: she snaps out her lyrics in whiplike cadences, as tight as the percussion behind her. An electrifying performer who learned a thing or two about stage presence in the James Brown revue in 1959 and '60, DeSanto claims she can still pull off her trademark back flips at age 62--and what with the energy she's brought to her recent studio recordings, it wouldn't surprise me if it were true. Saturday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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