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The High Priestess of Popular Song

The High Priestess of Popular Song

Barbara Lea

Label: Challenge Records
Format: CD
Barcode: 0608917334227
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Catalog number: CR 73342
Releasedate: 02-03-12
"Barbara Lea died peacefully in her sleep, after several years of ill-health, on 26th December, 2011 and the world is a sadder and poorer place without her [....] I don’t know who it was that named her ‘The High Priestess of Popular Song’, but the title fitted her to perfection. Lea was regarded as one of the two or three best interpreters of the Great American Songbook.
  • The great singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer once said "One of the joys of writing songs is that one might be lucky enough to have them sung by someone with the wonderful taste and ability of Barbara Lea"
  • Barbara Lea who died the 26th of December 2011, was regarded as one of the two or three best interpreters of the Great American Songbook
"Barbara Lea died peacefully in her sleep, after several years of ill-health, on 26th December, 2011 and the world is a sadder and poorer place without her [....] I don’t know who it was that named her ‘The High Priestess of Popular Song’, but the title fitted her to perfection. And yet, she never became generally famous except amongst the real afficionados of the golden age of popular song-writing and of cours among other singers and musicians who stood in awe of her immense talent. Why? Probably because the word “compromise” was not in her vocabulary when it came to musical matters. She had the chance to become a popular singing star, but her refusal to sing what she regarded as sub-standard material soon put an end to any such possibility.

The songs on this cd emotionally range from joy to despair, from innocence to cynicism, from almost rowdy to gentle and there’s more then a touch of the sexually alluring thrown in.To them all Barbara brings her supreme musicality and totally secure intonation, perfect diction and that almost unbelievable control of tone and timbre which extracts the very essence of each piece plus a subtle swing, which informs everything she sings and all this without sounding anything but totally spontaneous. A perfect example of the art that conceals art. Putting this CD together a few days after losing Barbara has been very sad but also exhilarating. " (from the linernotes of this cd, written by Chris Ellis)

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Barbara Lea's taste and integrity and uncompromising standards, along with her devotion to lyrics and her deep musicality, have made her one of the most widely respected and admired interpreters of the classic American popular song. She was born Barbara LeCocq; her musical heritage is traceable to a great uncle, Alexandre Charles LeCoq, an important nineteenth-century composer of French light opera. Born into a musical family in Detroit, she worked with small dance bands there before attending Wellesley College on scholarship and majoring in music theory. Boston was a hotbed of jazz in the late 40s and early 50s, allowing Barbara to sing with major instrumentalists such as Marian McPartland, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Frankie Newton, Johnny Windhurst, and George Wein. At the same time, she sang in the college choir, worked on the campus radio station and newspaper, and arranged for and conducted the Madrigal Group and brass choir concerts.

Her professional career started upon graduation. Her early recordings for Riverside and Prestige met with immediate critical acclaim and led to her winning the DownBeat International Critics' Poll as the Best New Singer of 1956. She appeared in small clubs in New York, including the renowned Village Vanguard, and throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada, as well as on radio and TV.

She studied acting to improve her stage presence and, with the near-demise of classic pop in the early 60s, turned to the legitimate theatre, performing an impressive list of leading and feature roles in everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim. She moved to the West Coast and received her M.A. in drama at Cal. State-Northridge, then returned to New York and taught speech at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and acting at Hofstra College. In the 1970s, with the resurgence of interest in show tunes and popular standards, Barbara Lea was literally sought out to appear in the Peabody Award-winning National Public Radio series "American Popular Song with Alec Wilder and Friends". This led to two lengthy feature articles in The New Yorker (where Whitney Balliett declared "Barbara Lea has no superior among popular singers") and a renewed singing career.

Barbara has starred in the JVC, Kool, and Newport Jazz Festivals several times, but her increasing devotion to the songs as written has led to concerts of the works of Rodgers and Hart, Arthur Schwartz, Cy Coleman, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, and the Gershwins, as well as cabaret appearances devoted to Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Yip Harburg. She has over a dozen CDs currently available on the Audiophile label, which has a reputation for featuring the best in singers of classic pop, plus reissues of two early LPs on Fantasy/Original Jazz Classics, and two recent releases on the European-based label Challenge.