Lena Corinne "Lee" Morse (née Taylor; November 30, 1897 – December 16, 1954) was an American jazz and blues singer-songwriter, composer, guitarist, and actress. Morse's greatest popularity was in the 1920s and early 1930s as a torch singer, although her career began around 1917 and continued until her death in 1954.
Born Lena Taylor in 1897, Morse grew up in a musical family in Kooskia, Idaho. After marrying and having a son, she left her family for the vaudeville circuit of the west coast around 1920, signing with producer Will King. A year later, she began working in musical revues with Kolb & Dill. In 1922, Morse joined the Pantages circuit, and played to rave reviews. Many wondered how the petite singer could produce such a deep sound, and one Variety writer supposed her low range came from trying to match her brothers' voices throughout her youth.
She began her recording career with a contract with the Pathe-Perfect label in 1924. During this era of acoustic recording, the power of her voice was essential to the success of her recordings. That her vocals come through with such clarity and strength on the acoustic Pathe-Perfect recordings of 1924-26 is further testament to her unique Talent. During these early years of her recording career, Lee was given the opportunity to record many of her own compositions. Some notable sides include Telling Eyes, Those Daisy Days, an Old-Fashioned Romance, Blue Waltz, The Shadows on the Wall, Deep Wide Ocean Blues, A Little Love and Daddy's Girl.
Lee Morse & Her Blue Grass Boys included trumpeter Manny Klein, Eddie Lang on guitar, and two brothers who played clarinet and trombone named Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. In 1927, along with other prominent artists of her era, she moved to the Columbia label. From 1927 to 1932, she was one of the label's most popular
female performers, second only to Ruth Etting. she recorded over 200 songs; her depression-era song "I've Got Five Dollars" is among her most widely known tunes.
Lee continued to do vaudeville and other stage work during this time, landing a role in Zeigfield's "Simple Simon" that should have made her an even bigger star. Sadly, a bender left her ill and unable to perform 24 hours before the show's Broadway debut on February 18, 1930. Minus their star, the producers asked Ruth Etting to step up in the eleventh hour to fill Lee's shoes. The show's memorable "Ten Cents a Dance" became Etting's signature song even as Lee's once promising Broadway career abruptly ended. In 1930, Miss Morse was featured in three short films, "Song Service", "A Million Me's" and "The Music Racket", all of which featured her flawless voice and comedic acting skills.
In the mid-1920s, Lee met pianist Rob Downey. He became her accompanist on stage and companion in life. Although they lived as a couple, some have questioned over the years whether they were ever actually married. Married or not, they shared their personal and professional lives for a number of years before Downey left her for a dancer. This tragic end to their relationship left Lee devastated and ever more dependent upon alcohol, which by the 1930s had become a constant companion.
After her relationship with Bob Downey ended in the late 1930s, Lee weathered a rocky period that left those closest to her worried for her health. Life improved when she met Ray Farese, whom she married in 1946. Some have said that Ray was her soul mate; indeed, they enjoyed a happy, content life together for many years.
Ray helped Lee revitalize her career by getting her a Rochester-based radio show and securing local club dates. She attempted a comeback with the song "Don't Even Change a Picture on the Wall," written in the 1940s for the WWII soldiers and finally recorded in 1951. Although the song enjoyed local success, it failed to launch her to the heights she had once enjoyed.
Lee passed away suddenly due to alcohol-related complications on December 16, 1954,whilst visiting a neighbour in Rochester. She was only 57, with some of the happiest years of her life only having only just begun. She is interred at the Riverside Cemetery.
After her death, Ray Farese turned her photos and scrapbook over to Rochester-based journalist Howard Hosmer, who apparently produced a Morse career retrospective for a local station. Hosmer, one of Lee’s biggest fans, died before her mementos could be returned to Ray Farese.
(Edited mainly from AllMusic & IMDb)