Born 31 October 1901, Boonville, Missouri
Died 8 December 1958, Kansas City, Missouri

Singer / pianist Julia Lee is the undisputed Queen of Risqué blues and R&B. She was born in the small town Boonville in Missouri, but grew up amidst the rousing Kansas City music scene of the Roaring Twenties. Lee began to play piano professionally at the Novelty Club in Kansas City in 1918. From 1920 on, her career was linked for fourteen years with that of her brother, saxophonist George E. Lee (1896-1959). Julia made her first record in 1927 ("Down Home Syncopated Blues"/"Meritt Stomp"), for the local Meritt label, with George Lee and His Novelty Singing Orchestra, followed by two singles for Brunswick in 1929. After her brother's band was scaled back to a small combo in 1934, she was hired as a soloist at Milton's Tap Room in Kansas City, which remained her base until 1948. Although consistently active as a performer, she did not record again until 1944.

A four-track Capitol session by Jay McShann and his Kansas City Stompers on November 1, 1944 featured Lee as vocalist on two of the four tracks. The popularity of the resulting single ("Come On Over To My House"/"Trouble In Mind") led to her solo recording career, which started on Mercury in 1946. There were fifteen Capitol sessions between 1946 and 1952, usually in Los Angeles, but also some in Kansas City, and all of them credited to Julia Lee and her Boy Friends. Her sidemen included Dave Cavanaugh on tenor sax, Benny Carter on alto sax, Vic Dickenson on trombone, Jack Marshall on guitar, Red Callender on bass and Sam 'Baby' Lovett on drums. Lee always accompanied herself on piano.

The first Capitol solo session, on August 23, 1946, brought Julia immediate chart succes, with "Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got" (# 3 R&B), a boogie with an undeniable rock 'n' roll rhythm. Merrill Moore would revive the song in 1955, also on Capitol. This was the beginning of popular success for a 44- year old woman whose vocal freshness and musical dynamism helped her to hide her age and appear as a much younger vocalist. From November 1947 until February 1948 Lee topped the R&B charts (for 12 weeks) with "Snatch And Grab It", which she followed up with "King Size Papa" in March 1948. This became another number one (for nine weeks) and even crossed over to the pop charts (peaking at # 18), in spite of the lyrics, which are more than a little suggestive! There was further pop success with another double entendre song, "I Didn't Like It the First Time (The Spinach Song)", which went to # 4 R&B and # 29 pop in the spring of 1949. The last of her ten R&B hits was "You Ain't Got It No More" (# 9, late 1949), criticizing her partner's performance in bed. My personal Julia Lee favourite. (Dig the way she sings "so long" at 1:52.)

In 1948 she appeared at a White House gala in front of President Truman, with her long-time musical partner Sam 'Baby' Lovett. Though she fulfilled several club engagements, she refused to tour. After leaving Capitol in 1952, Julia only recorded four further songs (for the Damon and Fourmost labels), but she was active up until her death (from a heart attack) in December 1958.

Her records have stood the test of time quite well. Julia Lee had a clear, rich, relaxed voice and both her singing and piano playing were based on solid boogie rhythms. Like that of Louis Jordan, Julia's music belongs to an era when musicians could create a beat merely by tapping their foot and did not feel obliged to hammer it out.

More info : http://home.earthlink.net/~v1tiger/julial.html

CD's :
Bear Family has released her complete recordings on a 5 CD-set, "Kansas City Star" (BCD 15770, 1995, 109 tracks, biography by Bill Millar). If that's too much for you, there are several good single-CD compilations (all on UK labels), for instance :
- That's What I Like : A Proper Introduction To Julia Lee (Proper, 2004, 24 tracks)
- Snatch And Grab It : The Essential Julia Lee (Indigo, 2002, 24 tracks).
- Kansas City Calling (Jasmine, 2005, 23 tracks).
All three tend to concentrate on the dirty songs, but she did so much more. As a career overview, the JSP release "Kansas City's First Lady Of the Blues" (2 CD's, 48 tracks, 2002) is more satisfying. Probably out of print, though.

Acknowledgements : Jean Buzelin, Joop Visser, Joel Whitburn, and the Capitol label discography (on CD-ROM) by Michel Ruppli and Bill Daniels.

YouTube :
Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pq98BQ7E7Bk
Snatch And Grab It : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxd0Q2WQnlk
King Size Papa : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pq98BQ7E7Bk
That's What I Like : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPml45nDGD0
Tell Me Daddy : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKycrYfN2WM
I Didn't Like It the First Time : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=024gVOIad6M
Don't Come Too Soon : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_08OKSMdh_A
You Ain't Got It No More : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSP7jAfUo0Y
Oh Chuck It (In A Bucket) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfCJvYvWQKI

Dik, October 2012

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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