vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,
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Happy birthday, Lee Wiley

Three days after the lady we now know as Carole Lombard came into the world in Indiana, another girl entered in the year-old state of Oklahoma. Her name was Lee Wiley, and while it's doubtful she ever met Lombard, there's a good chance Carole heard of her...or at least heard her.

That's because in the early to mid-thirties, Lee Wiley was a popular singer on radio, endowed with a wonderfully sensual style and a seductive way with a lyric. Her career turned out to be a paradox, some of it of her own doing, her recording dates sadly sporadic. But those in jazz considered Lee Wiley a "singer's singer," and long after her death in 1975, she makes new fans through reissues of her recordings and radio broadcasts. And since I'm a fan, that's why I'm writing this entry about her.

Lee's first records (including a splendid version of "Time On My Hands") were made in 1931 and she eventually latched onto radio, where she appeared regularly, singing with several noted orchestras. She even co-wrote a few songs with Victor Young, one of a number of musicians she was linked with romantically. She had a short-lived network musical program, but quit when Young wasn't given on-air credit.

In 1939, she pioneered the "songbook" concept nearly two decades before Ella Fitzgerald made it a staple. Wiley recorded eight Gershwin songs on four 78 rpm records, following it up over the next few years with albums consisting of material from Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart and Harold Arlen. Many of the songs on these collections weren't big hits, but were prime material. Session men included Bud Freeman and Fats Waller, as well as future husband Jess Stacy.

In the forties, Wiley regularly sang with Eddie Condon's band on radio jam sessions. Here she is with Condon and bassist Sid Weiss:



Wiley enjoyed a revival of sorts around 1951 when Columbia signed her; her first album there, "A Night In Manhattan," was a consistent seller for several years. It featured her version of Gershwin's "I've Got A Crush On You," adapting the arrangement Frank Sinatra used for a forties version (with Sinatra's permission; he too was a Wiley fan). Lee recorded a number of albums during the fifties, including a 1956 gem for RCA Victor, "West Of The Moon" (recently re-issued on CD by Mosaic).



Lee occasionally toured and appeared on TV, but unfortunately no visual performances of her singing apparently exist. (Audio is available of a 1959 appearance on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show.") Here's Lee performing in Columbus, Ohio, that September:



Wiley more or less retreated from public view in the sixties, living in Manhattan, but in the early seventies she enjoyed a last hurrah, recording an album and singing at Carnegie Hall as part of a jazz festival. She died in December 1975.

If you're into jazz singing, I think you'll enjoy discovering Lee Wiley's work.
Tags: frank sinatra, jazz, lee wiley, singing
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