April 10 was Barbara Lea’s eighty-first birthday.  I am quite late, but hope that no one minds my tardiness. 

She is deeply respected by those who know, although by my reckoning there could be many more people aware of her special approach.  Barbara has always worked wonderfully with jazz performers of a subtle kind — she is not someone shouting over a full-tilt ensemble . . . but like her idols Mildred Bailey and Lee Wiley, she is a singer comfortable with a few horns threading through her vocal and a supportive rhythm section. 

In some ways, she is the musical equivalent to Ruby Braff, somewhat of a delicious anachronism, making her peaceful way amidst the noise of the last fifty years.  The recordings I most treasure of Barbara’s find her alongside players who summon up great emotional force without ever raising their voices: Johnny Windhurst (her Bobby Hackett), Dick Sudhalter, and Vic Dickenson at the very end of his recording career. 

Barbara’s recording career began with a two-song session for Graham Prince’s Cadillac label in 1954 (those days of transition where a new single was issued both on 45 and 78): a pop trifle called I’LL BET YOU A KISS backed with Barbara’s choice, ANYPLACE I HANG MY HAT IS HOME.  The band?  Amateurs . . . Pee Wee Erwin, Cutty Cutshall, Bill Pemberton, George Wettling, and Bill Austin.  Here’s a photograph from that session:

Here’s Barbara with an unknown fan, some hanger-on:

At the Village Vanguard, 1956:

With the noted cellist Morey Amsterdam:

And in the present day, with her dear friend Jeanie Wilson, both in high style:

It’s sad to report that Barbara no longer sings, owing to Alzheimer’s disease.  But she enjoys listening to music and is strong in body — and much loved.  We have the music she made — a substantial legacy.

5 responses to “MISS BARBARA LEA

  1. Pingback: MISS BARBARA LEA

  2. Happy Birthday to Barbara!! She is the greatest! I’ll never tire of hearing her warm and distinctive voice.

  3. Jeanie Wilson

    Both Barbara and I sincerely thank you for the belated birthday greetings on her 81st birthday! And although she isn’t very well these days, as you mentioned, Michael, we listen to a lot of good music together and Barbara continues to delight in Sudhalter’s *vocalese* on Let’s Step Out on the Mr. Tram Associates album, with Barbara, Daryl Sherman and Loren Schoenberg. Need a picker-upper? Listen to those 4 swing! They are having so much fun…. and thank you, Petra for acknowledging Barbara and keeping her legacy alive. Hope to hear YOU sing again one of these days, in person.

  4. Msyana@gmail.com

    That “Hanger-On” is Duke Ellington! Ignorance is bliss..

  5. The full quotation, I believe, is “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘t’is folly to be wise.” I knew who it was and was joking with my readers. But thanks for pointing it out so sweetly!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s