8 Hapa Women Who Made History: R&B Singer Sugar Pie DeSanto


Sugar Pie DeSanto (born October 16, 1935)

Before there was H.E.R. there was Sugar Pie DeSanto. Born to an African-American mother and a Filipino father, Sugar Pie DeSanto was an R&B star. Her birth name is Umpeleya Marsema Balinton. As a child, she ran with a girl gang named the Lucky 20’s. One of her friends was fellow Lucky 20, the future Etta James.

As a young girl, she was discovered by bandleader Johnny Otis, who dubbed her “Sugar Pie.” She toured with his band and with the James Brown Revue. In the ’60s, she made records with childhood friend Etta James and had a few minor hits. Her live performances are riotous, featuring backflips, death drops, and wild dancing. She still tours the world in R&B festivals. In 2008, she was awarded the Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. You can watch her performance here.

Sugar Pie DeSanto is a hidden 1960s treasure. Read more about her here.

Sugar Pie DeSanto


Melissa has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdophiles and The Nerds of Color. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.