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Album Review

Although this first volume in the Classics Julia Lee chronology is ostensibly part of the label's Blues & Rhythm vintage R&B series, it begins with eight valuable early jazz recordings made in the notoriously wide-open nonstop party town of Kansas City during the years 1927 and 1928. On the opening track, lifted up off of a dusty old platter that bore the obscure Meritt record label, 25-year-old Julia Lee is heard singing "Down Home Syncopated Blues" with her big brother George E. Lee & His Novelty Singing Orchestra. For the flip side, a stomp named after the record company, the band conjures up something similar to Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-O." A series of Brunswick sides cut during November of 1929 features both George E. Lee and a young Albert "Budd" Johnson in the reed section. George Lee sings James P. Johnson's "If I Could Be with You" and Joe Primrose's "St. James Infirmary Blues" in a rather shrill voice not unlike that of the young Cab Calloway. Two instrumentals, "Paseo Street" and "Ruff Scufflin'," provide a piquant taste of Bennie Moten-era Kansas City hot jazz. The pianist on all of these early sides is said to have been Julia Lee and/or legendary Kansas City bandleader and future R&B composer Jesse Stone. All of this serves as a wonderful prelude to the records actually featuring Julia Lee the vocalist. She chortles "He's Tall, Dark and Handsome" in a powerful voice edged with ringing vibrato similar to that which Alberta Hunter would use during the 1930s. In a neat maneuver, Julia Lee's "Won't You Come Over to My House?" of 1929 segues smoothly into her 1944 recording "Come on Over to My House," a jump tune that clearly inspired Nellie Lutcher's 1947 hit record "Hurry On Down." What happened to Julia Lee during those missing 15 years? She is said to have remained in Kansas City working as pianist in her brother's band, gigging steadily but apparently not preserving any of her performances on phonograph records. Her Capitol recordings, which began to materialize in the mid-'40s, show listeners a mature woman who had gradually perfected her casual mannerisms in the 24-hour nightclubs of Kansas City. This is best demonstrated when she belts out the words to Richard M. Jones' "Trouble in Mind" with a band anchored by the world's toughest rhythm section of Jay McShann, Walter Page, and Sam "Baby" Lovett.


Born: 31 October 1902 in Boonville, MO

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s

A popular entertainer who recorded frequently for Capitol during 1944-1950, Julia Lee's double-entendre songs and rocking piano made her a major attraction in Kansas City. She played piano and sang in her brother George E. Lee's Orchestra during 1920-1934, recording with him in 1927 and 1929 (including "If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight") and cutting two titles of her own in 1929 ("He's Tall, He's Dark and He's Handsome" and "Won't You Come Over to My House"). Lee worked regularly as a single...
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1927-1946, Julia Lee
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