Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2010: Sonny Rollins

Ranee Lee: Dark Diva

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If there were one word to describe Ranee Lee, it would be versatile.

After touring North America in the 1970s as a tenor saxophonist and drummer, the Brooklyn-born Lee moved to Montreal, and was chosen to star in the first Canadian production of Lady Day, a musical portraying the life of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday. This 1988 performance, along with her 1989 recording Deep Song, brought her vocal talents to jazz fans across North America and Europe.

Since then, Lee has established herself as one of Canada’s premier jazz vocalists. She has released ten albums, featuring jazz greats like Oliver Jones, Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen, Milt Hinton, Clark Terry and John Clayton. Several of those recordings, including I Thought About You, Dark Divas, and Maple Groove: Songs from the Great Canadian Songbook, have been nominated for Juno Awards.

Lee did not abandon acting to become a singer. Her award-winning portrayal of Billie Holiday inspired her to write and star in Dark Divas, a musical depicting the lives and careers of some of the most popular female jazz singers of the 20th century, including Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. It has been well-received all across North America.

Lee hosts a television series called The Performers, showcasing Canadian jazz artists. She is also an esteemed jazz educator, a respected cultural advocate, and the author of a children’s book, Nana, What Do You Say? In 2006, she was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

When Ranee Lee’s Quintet takes the stage in Winnipeg at this year’s Jazz Festival, don’t miss the chance to experience one of Canada’s favorite jazz singers!

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