Lee Wiley (October 9, 1908 – December 11, 1975) was an American jazz singer during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
Wiley was born in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. At fifteen, she left home to pursue a singing career, singing on New York City radio stations. Her career was interrupted by a fall while horseback riding. She suffered temporary blindness but recovered. At the age of 19 she was a member of the Leo Reisman Orchestra, with whom in 1931 she recorded three songs: “Take It from Me”, “Time On My Hands”, and her composition “Got the South in My Soul”.
Wiley began her radio career at KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She sang on the Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt program on NBC in 1932, and was featured on Victor Young’s radio show in 1933. From June 10, 1936, until September 2, 1936, she had her own show, Lee Wiley, on CBS.
In 1939, Wiley recorded eight Gershwin songs on 78s with a small group for Liberty Music Shop Records. The set sold well and was followed by 78s dedicated to the music of Cole Porter (1940) and Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart (1940 and 1954), Harold Arlen (1943), and 10″ LPs dedicated to the music of Vincent Youmans and Irving Berlin (1951).
She sang with Paul Whiteman and later, the Casa Loma Orchestra. A collaboration with composer Victor Young resulted in several songs for which Wiley wrote the lyrics, including “Got the South in My Soul” and “Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere.”
On October 11, 1963, Bob Hope Theater on NBC-TV presented “Something About Lee Wiley”. Piper Laurie portrayed Wiley in the episode, which was produced by Revue Studios. Wiley’s singing voice was provided by Joy Bryan.
Lee Wiley was born with last name Willey. Lee was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and was buried in her family plot in Cherokee Nation. Wiley married the jazz pianist Jess Stacy in 1943. The couple was described by their friend Deane Kincaide as being as “compatible as two cats, tails tied together, hanging over a clothesline”; they divorced in 1948. Her response to Stacy’s desire to get a divorce was, “What will Bing Crosby be thinking of you divorcing me?”, while Stacy said of Wiley, “They did not burn the last witch at Salem.” (wikipedia)
Her husky, surprisingly sensual voice and exquisitely cool readings of pop standards distinguished her singing, but Lee Wiley earns notice as one of the best early jazz singers by recognizing the superiority of American popular song and organizing a set of songs around a common composer or theme — later popularized as the songbook or concept LP. She was also a songwriter in her own right, and one of the few white vocalists with more respect in the jazz community than the popular one. Even more tragic then, that while dozens of inferior vocalists recorded LPs during the late ’50s and ’60s, Wiley appeared on record just once between 1957 and her death in 1975.
Wiley was born in 1910 in Ft. Gibson, OK; early press reports claimed lineage from a Cherokee princess, as well as a birthdate five years later than the true one. Whatever her background, she began singing at an early age, influenced by the “race records” of the day by Mildred Bailey and Ethel Waters. She left Oklahoma for New York City as a teenager, and made a few demos in the late ’20s before hiring on with Leo Reisman. Her first hit, “Time on My Hands,” came in 1931 with Reisman, and earned her solo billing on a few radio programs. Wiley also began recording her own sides for Kapp, backed by the Casa Loma Orchestra, the Dorsey Brothers, and Johnny Green.
Her popular fortunes fell however, after the threat of tuberculosis kept her from singing for more than a year. In the late ’30s, Wiley began recording sides for the Liberty music shop. The results were a series of unique sessions, each organized around the work of one composer (first the Gershwins, then Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and Harold Arlen) and released on the standard catalog album — four 10″ records played at 78 rpm — for a grand total of eight songs by each composer. These “songbook” recordings also utilized the cream of the era’s hot jazz musicians, including Eddie Condon, Bunny Berigan, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Bushkin, Fats Waller, and Jess Stacy; the latter became her husband for several years during the ’40s. Wiley also performed often with Stacy’s big band and with smaller groups led by Condon during the ’40s. She signed to Columbia in 1950 and recorded several additional albums, including the excellent Night in Manhattan.
After recording a single album for Storyville, Wiley had moved again by the mid-’50s, to RCA Victor. Her two albums for the label, 1956’s West of the Moon and the following year’s A Touch of the Blues, were touching capstones to her career, the first with the delicate arranging of Ralph Burns proving the perfect accompaniment to her voice. Unfortunately, they were practically the last recordings of her career. After 14 years off-record, Wiley returned with one final session, 1971’s Back Home Again. She died four years later. (by John Bush)
Collectors’ Choice Music presents a rare compilation featuring Lee Wiley’s most prolific and oft-requested post-World War II extended-play platter, including three complete 10″ discs that the vocalist cut for Columbia in the early ’50s. When initially issued, Wiley had already experienced significant success as a traditional pop and torch singer circa the ’30s. During this era she was supported by such notables as Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, and the Johnny Green-led Casa Loma Orchestra. Due to its thematic nature, this project could rightly be considered as an early Songbook or concept album. That said, it is Night in Manhattan that perhaps most accurately exemplifies the moods, sounds,and auras of The Big Apple after hours. Wiley’s unmistakable voice yields a distinct, organic,and otherwise full-bodied timbre. She unleashes varying degrees of that charm, bringing to life the Great American Songbook classics “Any Time, Any Day, Anywhere” and “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance (With You)” with her trademark sense of a distant and at times flawed vulnerability.
Wiley is joined by Bobby Hackett and Joe Bushkin’s Swinging Strings on Night in Manhattan. Comparatively, the Vincent Youmans and Irving Berlin anthologies offer collaborations with Stan Freeman and Cy Walter, who collectively continue building upon Wiley’s considerable back catalog of similar “songbooks” cut throughout the ’40s. These centered on the works of Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, and George & Ira Gershwin. The original decision to cover both high-profile and obscure titles alike — such as the elegant “Tea for Two” compared to the equally engaging “Why Oh Why” — was an inspired one to be sure. Yet it is unquestionably Sings Irving Berlin that serves up one of the finest examples of the magic that can occur when a performer is given access to songs that at times sound as if they were penned specifically for them. Supported by a single keyboard, the classics “I Got Lost in His Arms,” “Fools Fall in Love” and “How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky)” are haunting and ethereal — much like Manhattan herself. (by Lindsay Planer)
Lee Wiley (vocals)
Joe Bushkin And His Swinging Strings (Titel: 1 to 4, 7 to 10)
Stan Freeman (piano)
Bobby Hackett (cornet)
Cy Walter (piano)
The CD edition from Japan:
01. Street Of Dreams (Lewis/Young) 3.14
02. A Woman’s Intuition (Washington/Young) 3.32
03. Sugar (Alexander/Pinkard/Mitchell) 3.08
04. Any Time, Any Day, Anywhere (Wiley/Washington/Young) 2.26
05. Manhattan (Rodgers/Hart) 3.25
06. I’ve Got A Crush On You (I. Gershwin/G. Gershwin) 3.26
07. A Ghost Of A Chance (Crosby/Washington/Young) 3.17
08. Oh! Look At Me Now (Bushkin/De Vries) 3.09
09. How Deep Is The Ocean (Berlin) 2.52
10. More Than You Know (Rose/Eliscu/Youmans) 3.11
11. Soft Lights And Sweet Music (Berlin) 2.33
12. Time On My Hands (Adamson/Gordon/Youmans) 2.48