About Sugar Pie DeSanto

Sugar Pie DeSanto circa 1960's. Photo by Steve Richards

“Little Miss Dynamite” she was called.  Sugar Pie DeSanto is a singer with a voice so powerful and a stage presence so explosive, she typically brings the house down when she performs.


That’s why Sugar Pie is a blues legend. In the 1960s, she was part of the the famous American Folk-Blues Festival tour featuring some of the giants of the blues movement – Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonnyboy Williamson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Henry Barbee. The tour took Europe by storm, helping shape the careers of the future stars of rock n’ roll, including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.


Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton to a Filipino immigrant father and an African American mother, who was a classical pianist, Sugar Pie grew up in San Francisco during the city’s blues and jazz renaissance after World War II. She signed with the illustrious Chess Records in Chicago in the 1960s, and performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem with the likes of James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson and other greats of American music.


It has been 60 years since she began her career, and she’s still go-go-going! (Hear the NPR feature on Sugar Pie, click here.) In 2008, she was honored with a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and, as usual, her performance there was a sensation! (Watch the video of Sugar Pie’s performance at the R&B Foundation Awards: click here).  In 2009, some of her best songs, written and recorded at Chess Records in the 1960s, were finally compiled and released in the album Go Go Power.