Julia Lee (October 31, 1902 – December 8, 1958) was an American blues and dirty blues musician. She was known for her husky voice, her straightforward piano style, and the easy, but heartfelt way she sang. In a professional singing career that spanned four decades, Lee built a national reputation as one of the great female blues singers of all time.
Julia Lee was born in Booneville, Missouri, and raised in Kansas City, where she attended Lincoln High School. As a child, she performed with her father’s string trio, as well as at neighborhood house parties and church socials. She began her professional musical career singing and playing the piano in her brother’s band, George E. Lee and His Novelty Singing Orchestra. George Lee’s band formed around 1920, and, among the black musical groups in the Kansas City area, was the biggest rival of
After her brother’s group disbanded in 1935, Julia Lee stayed in Kansas City and launched an independent career. A major figure in the blues revival that followed World War II, her trademark was double entrendres, or, as she once said, “the songs my mother taught me not to sing.”
She made several hit records in the 1940s. The success of “Come on Over to My House Baby” lead to a recording contract with Capitol Records in 1946 and a string of R&B hits followed, including "Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got" (#3 R&B, 1946), "Snatch and Grab It" (#1 R&B for 12 weeks, 1947, selling over 500,000 copies), "King Size Papa" (#1 R&B for 9 weeks, 1948), "I Didn't Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)" (#4 R&B, 1949), and "My Man Stands Out".
The records were credited to 'Julia Lee and Her Boy Friends', her session musicians including Jay McShann, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Red Norvo, Nappy Lamare, and Red Nichols.
She worked primarily in Kansas City and frequently teamed up with the great drummer Samuel “Baby” Lovett, a veteran of George Lee’s band. In 1949, Lee and Lovett played at the White House at the invitation of President Harry Truman. Her decision to spend most of her career in Kansas City rather than New York or Los Angeles, where R&B really took off, meant that she was far more unfamiliar to the wider public than many less talented singer-pianists of her generation.
Lee was married for a time to Frank Duncan, a star catcher and manager of the Negro National League's Kansas City Monarchs. He, like Julia, was a native of Kansas City.
Although her hits dried up after 1949, she continued as one of the most popular performers in Kansas City until her death in San Diego, California, at the age of 56, from a heart attack. (Info mainly edited from Kansas City History.org & Wikipedia)