Positions Lee Morse in her rightful place as a musical pioneer for both American music and gender equality in the music community
Lee Morse (born Lena Corinne Taylor on Nov. 30., 1897 in Cove, Oregon) is perhaps best remembered as a torch singer and performer on the jazz and bluegrass circuits of the Pre-War era. However, what is not yet reckoned with is that she was one of the earliest female singer/ songwriters to ever be recorded in the United States. Morse learned to sing and play guitar from her older brothers, both of whom played in the bluegrass style, at a very young age touring in the Portland-Seattle area with their preacher father. This is how she developed her distinctive low-register voice as she tried to impersonate them, something that when coupled with her very small frame made her a successful performing musician on the vaudeville circuit and in silent film. This also lead to a rather large recording catalog, both credited as a solo artist and with band “Her Bluegrass Boys.”
Despite this success, early critics dismissed her “coos” and “yelps” in her singing style as being gimmicky even though they’d become standard uses of expression in jazz vocalizing throughout the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — a style she helped invent and develop. In an era that did not see anything particularly special about a singer who also wrote music outside of the burgeoning folk/ blues movement, Morse’s substantial portfolio of well-written and thoughtful songs from this period (mostly with no co-writer) have often been neglected.
Lee’s performing career waned in the years before WWII, and she died without much fanfare in 1954 at the age of 57. While not focused on her most popular recordings, the purpose of this collection is to instead position Lee Morse in her rightful place as a musical pioneer for both American music and gender equality in the music community.