Bonnie Lee (June 11, 1931 – September 7, 2006) was an American Chicago blues singer, known as "The Sweetheart of the Blues.“ She was a long-time fixture of Chicago's contemporary blues scene as well as one of the last surviving links to its post-war heyday. Many great blues artists have come from the Texas area but, arguably, none so adorable as Ms. Bonnie Lee. With a career that spanned more than fifty years, Lee stirred the mixture of jazz sophistication, deep rooted blues feeling and southern charm to come with a style that's was all her own.
Born Jessie Lee Frealls on June 11, 1931, in Bunkie, LA, Lee grew up in Beaumont, TX, where she studied piano and sang in her church's choir. Gospel singer Lillian Ginn was sufficiently impressed to extend an invitation to join her on tour, but Lee's mother refused to grant her permission. As a teen Lee nevertheless toured the South as a member of the Famous Georgia Minstrels, befriending blues legends Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Big Mama Thornton along the way.
She relocated to Chicago in 1958, hitching a ride with a delivery van driver and settling at the West Side apartment of an aunt. After toiling in anonymity as a singer and dancer, in 1960 Lee signed to J. Mayo Williams' Ebony label to cut her debut single, "Sad and Evil Woman," credited at Williams' insistence to Bonnie "Bombshell" Lane, a moniker she reportedly despised. The single fared poorly, and Lee continued touring the Chicago jazz and blues club circuit, developing a potent voice as earthy as it was electrifying.
In the late '70s, she also cut a handful of singles for Slim's own Airway label. In 1982, performing with Zora Young and Big Time Sarah as Blues with the Girls, she toured Europe, and they recorded an album in Paris.
In 1992 Lee performed on Magic Slim's album 44 Blues, with John Primer. Lee also enjoyed a decade-long collaboration with renowned bassist Willie Kent, during which time she recorded the 1995 Delmark LP Sweetheart of the Blues as well as the 1998 Wolf Records set I'm Good. In addition, she contributed to myriad compilations, most notably Women of Blue Chicago and Chicago's Finest Blues Ladies.
Health problems nevertheless plagued Lee throughout the latter half of her life, and she died in Chicago, Illinois, on September 7, 2006, at the age of 75. (Info edited from AMG)