The good friend of JAZZ LIVES, pianist and bandleader Bill Dunham, sent his recollections of Barbara Lea for us:
I guess I’m Barbara’s oldest friend – both in terms of age and friendship. She was at Wellesley (where she was Barbara Leacock out of Detroit) when I was Harvard in the late 40’s. We met on a blind date and dated briefly (I was pretty inept and Larry Eanet took over in that department). It was there that I introduced Barbara to the Harvard Crimson Stompers a Dixieland band that was really a hot item among the college jock fraternities (Dartmouth, etc.) Her singing career started! I was a member of the Stompers at the time and can remember how we were all knocked out by this Wellesley girl’s singing!
During her senior year at Wellesley and after graduation she sang at local Boston clubs – some not too upscale including a Mafia-run club where she called me one night and asked me to please come down the next night because she had been threatened by a gang thug. I was to call a police lieutenant should there be a confrontation. I was not too enthusiastic about this assignment but fortunately it went OK with me sitting nervously clutching the policeman’s phone number.
As you know, Barbara made scores of LPs, CDs, etc. One of my favorites is the one she made with Johnny Windhurst, a marvelous young trumpet player. He incidentally sat in with the Grove Street Stompers a number of times.
Barbara has often been labeled as a young Lee Wiley. Yes, one can pick up traces of Wiley in her singing but Barbara was her own person and had her own approach to singing the great standards with a beautiful, pure, ungimmicky voice!
I have been a close friend of hers since college and will really miss her!