Barbara Lea

Barbara Lea was born Barbara Ann Le Cocq in Detroit, Michigan, on April 10, 1929. Her family moved to the suburb of Melvindale in 1932. Times were bleak in the 1930s and she had her first job at the age of 7 delivering newspapers. She also took piano and tap dancing lessons. She went to public schools in Melvindale and in Detroit when the family moved back in 1940, and then later attended high school at Kingswood School Cranbrook.

Barbara's whole family was musical and there were always pianos and ukuleles in the house, which everyone took turns playing. Her father had been a clarinetist; her brother played trumpet and harmonica. The family entertainment was gathering around the piano and singing while her mother played. By the age of 6 or 7, she had decided on a career as a singer.

When she was 16, her family bought a summer cottage in Belle River, Ontario. A dance band played outdoors every Friday and Saturday night and, trembling with stage fright, Barbara sat in with them for the last few weeks of the summer. The next winter the band got a Saturday night gig at a nightclub in Windsor, Ontario, and asked her to join them as their vocalist. She was delighted to be paid $5 a night.

At Wellesley College, Barbara majored in Music Theory, her sights set firmly on singing but with no idea how this might happen. Fortunately for her, a friend had a date whose roommate, Bill Dunham, played piano in a Harvard dixieland band called the Crimson Stompers. She became their vocalist. She also had the pleasure of working with Vic Dickenson, Marian McPartland, Edmond Hall, Frankie Newton, Johnny Windhurst and George Wein. After college, Barbara remained in Boston for a year, singing with the same sort of society bands she had worked with in Detroit. She was very popular for her musicianship; she knew and sang every tune they played, saying simply “Put it in E flat” or “Put it in G”. Because of this ability, she was paid $10 a night, rather than the standard $5.

Read more
Album Reviews
Read more articles
”Twenty years ago a very promising young singer named Barbara Lea, who reminded some listeners of Lee Wiley, was beginning to make an impression on records and in clubs such as the Village Vanguard. But suddenly nothing more was heard of her-- because, it now turns out, she began studying acting to improve her presence as a singer and, through this, went into the theatre. Two decades have changed Miss Lea from a demure, sweet-faced college girl fresh out of Wellesley to a mature, assured, strong-featured woman. And her voice has grown to match her appearance. There are still echoes of Lee Wiley when Miss Lea sings, but her voice has acquired a depth, a deep velvet sound in her chest tones that carries smoothly into the upper register, enabling her to color her songs with exquisite shading and dynamics

Read more

Discography

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

Do You Know What It...

Audiophile Records
2007

buy
Black Butterfly

Black Butterfly

Self Produced
2006

buy
 

Hoagy's Children -...

Polygram Distribution
1983

buy
 

Barbara Lea With The...

Polygram Distribution
1956

buy

Similar

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.