Hurray for Lady Day

By Sharman Yarnell on May 1, 2008

She's vivacious and warm. Her soul is the very essence of Jazz and Blues. Few in this city perform   it better.

She's Ranee Lee.

And she's just been given Montreal's Association of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) Award of Excellance for a lifetime of achievement. This recognition is special. It is bestowed upon her by her peers. Recent winners are actors William Shatner, Vlasta Vrana and Walter Massey.

Over the years, Lee has been recognized for her work so many times: Nominations for numerous Junos. The Dora Mavor Moore Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day.  Top Canadian Female Jazz Vocalist in 1994 and 1995 by Jazz Report Magazine. And recently – notably - she was invested into the Order of Canada.

The multi-talented Lee is well known to Montrealers. Although born in Brooklyn, she calls Montreal her home. Diversity is what sets her apart from others in her league: She began her career as a dancer; in the 70's she toured North America as a drummer and a saxaphonist.

Somewhere along the way, singing took over. She became one of Canada's top Jazz artists and has performed internationally across the United States. In South Africa, she toured as part of The Canadian Jazz Giants. Here, at home, she has been an integral part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Over the years, Lee has worked with Jazz notables Clark Terry, Bill Mayes and Herbie Ellis, to name but a few. She  recorded Just You, Just Me with Oliver Jones, an album nominated for an Indie Award in 2006. She has acted with Billy Dee Williams in Giant Steps and opened for the late George Burns at Place des Arts in the early nineties.

It gets better.

In 2001, she co-starred in Sadie Delany at what was then the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, a non-musical production about a one hundred and three-year-old survivor of racism.

Her most outstanding achievement on stage was Dark Divas, a one woman show that she conceived, wrote and performed about the lives and contributions of many black female entertainers over the years - Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Pearl Bailey and Lena Horne.  I remember being totally in awe of her ability to switch from one of the ladies to the other, not mimicing them in voice, but becoming them in spirit - This diva proved she can scatt with the best of them!

There is more to Ranee Lee than meets the eye.  On meeting her you're struck with her total natural warmth, her outgoing manner, her apparent lack of ego, and her wonderful sense of humour.

Last year she wrote and published a children's book called Nana, What Do You Say, inspired by a song she wrote of the same title in her album 'I Thought About You”.

On stage, accompanied by the great Oliver Jones, or comfortably dressed in pyjamas at a press conference reading to young children, Lee is cozy, talented, relaxed and at home with her many fans. She could be tucked up in our living room with a warm hot toddie, scatting us away into that never, never wonderland that is the dream world of our imagination. An unpretentious Star, with Lee what you see is what you get.


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