Growing up in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, Peylia Balinton only remembers her mother playing classical piano at home. It wasn’t until she visited a friend’s house that she was exposed to Blues music. That was the start of a lifelong career on stage.

Concert posters featuring Sugar Pie DeSanto. Courtesy of Lorraine Balinton.

Peylia’s first performance was at an open mic at the historic Ellis Theater in San Francisco, where she soon became a regular. It was after one of these performances that she was approached by Johnny Otis, who immediately recognized her talent and asked her to record an album. Otis also gave her the stage name Sugar Pie DeSanto. 

Jim Moore and Sugar Pie DeSanto at their StoryCorps recording, on August 11, 2022, in Oakland, CA .
By Jo Corona for StoryCorps.

Sugar Pie came to StoryCorps in 2022 with Jim Moore—her manager of over 50 years—to remember how she got her start.

Top Photo: Sugar Pie DeSanto performs at the Apollo Theater in New York City, 1964. Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired May 3, 2024, on NPR’s Morning Edition.