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Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Lee Morse list....

Lee Morse

Lee Morse (November 30, 1897 — December 16, 1954) was an US jazz and blues singer and songwriter whose most popular years were in the 1920s and early 1930s, although her career began around 1917 and continued until her death in 1954. Morse was known for her strong, deep singing voice and vocal range, which often belied the fact that she was merely five feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. Among her best known trademarks was her yodeling. Morse was also moderately successful as an actress on the Broadway stage. Her life and career, however, was marred by alcoholism.

Morse was born Lena Corinne Taylor in Portland, Oregon, the ninth of twelve children (and the third daughter) born to Pleasant John Taylor, a local pastor, and his wife, the former Olive Higgins Fleming. The Taylor family was a musical one and, prior to Lena's birth, had toured around Idaho by covered wagon under the name of the Taylor Family Concert Company.  Young Lena spent her early years in the small town of Kooskia, Idaho. She reputedly learned to sing around the time she was three years old by impersonating her brothers' voices, which may account for her later ability to master deeper registers in her vocal range.

The Taylor family moved in 1908 to Clearwater Valley, a town three miles east of Kooskia, Idaho. During this time, Lena Taylor would often be heard singing on her way to and from school.

On May 2, 1915, Lena married Elmer Morse, a local woodworker. She gave birth to a son, Jack, the following year.  Lena, however, had a desire for a career as a singer and separated from Morse in 1920. Her first professional notice came around 1918, when she performed under the name "Mrs. Elmer Morse" at a local silent movie house.  During the next few years she played largely in small Pacific Northwestern towns such as Spokane and Chewelah.

Lee Morse's family was involved in politics as well as music. In 1920 her father was elected as a delegate to the Democratic Convention. Morse accompanied her father to San Francisco and, while there, performed in a convention at the Hotel St. Francis. As a result, she was noticed by Will King, a famous vaudeville producer of the day, who subsequently signed her to a contract.
Morse seized the opportunity for a career in the vaudeville of the West Coast, she left Kooskia — and her husband Elmer — behind for good. Her brother Glen would later observed "she left home when we were barefoot and had the best suite in a Portland hotel when I saw her again."
In 1921, Morse began working in musical revues under Kolb and Dill. In 1922, she joined the Pantages circuit with a 15-minute act titled Do You Remember One Small Girl a Whole Quartet. One reviewer observed "she sings a baritone 'Silver Moon,' then swings into a bass with 'Asleep in the Deep' and finishes in a soprano with 'Just a Song of Twilight.'  In November 1922 the reviewer for Variety noted "She gives the impression of a male impersonator, yodels rather sweetly, sings the 'blues' number better than the majority."

In 1923, Morse won a role in the touring version of the revue Hitchy Koo. The cast included star Raymond Hitchcock, as well as Marion Green, Irene Delroy, Al Sexton, Busby Berkeley, and Ruth Urban.
Her next performed in the Schubert revue Artists and Models, which opened on Broadway on August 20, 1923.

In 1924, Morse began her recording career with a contract with the Pathé label. During this era of acoustic recording, the power of her voice was essential to the success of her recordings. Also during this time, she was given the opportunity to record many of her own compositions. Among her notable recordings from this period are "Telling Eyes," "Those Daisy Days," "An Old-Fashioned Romance" ( which she re-recorded for Columbia in 1927), "Blue Waltz", "The Shadows on the Wall," "Deep Wide Ocean Blues," "A Little Love," and "Daddy's Girl."
Pathé gave Morse the opportunity to indulge in a level of experimentation, not only by recording her own songs, but also through the opportunity to explore the limits of her vocal abilities. Prevalent on these early recordings are her characteristic whoops and yodels. Although dismissed by some as a gimmick, these techniques added a personality to her voice and enabled her to fully demonstrate her multi-octave range.

Lee Morse's success as an entertainer took its toll on her personal life. Her husband, Elmer Morse, had created a home for her complete with furnishings he'd built himself. On February 18, 1925 he filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion and abandonment. Although she had deserted her husband and child five years earlier, Morse was able to keep custody of their son Jack. Sadly, in October 1926, Elmer Morse died of scarlet fever in Spokane at the young age of 35.

In 1927, along with other prominent artists of her era, Morse moved to the Columbia label. From 1927 to 1932, she was one of the label's most popular female performers, second only to Ruth Etting. Morse continued to do vaudeville and other stage work during this time, landing a role in Ziegfeld's Simple Simon that may have made her an even bigger star. Sadly, her alcoholism left her ill and unable to perform a mere 24 hours before the show's Broadway debut on February 18, 1930. Minus their star, the producers asked Ruth Etting to step up in the eleventh hour to fill Morse's shoes. As a result, the show's memorable "Ten Cents a Dance" became Etting's signature while Morse's once promising Broadway career abruptly ended.

In the mid-1920s, Morse met pianist Bob Downey.  He became her accompanist on stage and companion in life. They subsequently lived together as a couple, although whether or not they were ever actually married remains questionable. She and Downey eventually opened a small club in Texas, which they operated until it burned down in 1939. Later they resettled in Rochester, New York. Downey eventually left Morse for a striptease dancer.  This end to their relationship left Morse devastated and ever more dependent upon alcohol, which by the 1930s had become a constant companion.

Although Morse's Broadway prospects had dimmed by the 1930s, she could still be seen in a number of musical film shorts, including A Million Me's (Paramount, April 25, 1930), The Music Racket (Vitaphone, June 30, 1930), and Song Service (Paramount, October 24, 1930).
Lee had always preferred stage audiences to small clubs, once commenting "I get nervous! I can't stand it! I want to scream!" However, as the business changed in the 1930s, she found herself taking club dates when stage gigs grew scarce. In fact, in the mid-1930s, she and then-partner Downey opened a small club in Texas. After the 1939 fire, they resettled in Rochester, New York, an area that had been kind to her over the years.

After her relationship with Bob Downey ended in the late 1930s, Morse weathered a rocky period that left those closest to her worried for her health. Life improved when she met Ray Farese, whom she married in 1946.  Farese helped her revitalize her career by getting her a Rochester-based radio show and securing local club dates. She attempted a comeback with the song "Don't Even Change a Picture on the Wall," written in the 1940s for the World War II soldiers and finally recorded in 1951. Although the song enjoyed local success, it failed to launch her to the heights she had once enjoyed.
Lee Morse died suddenly on December 16, 1954 while visiting a neighbor. She was only 57 years old.

After her death, her husband, Ray Farese, turned her photos and scrapbook over to Rochester-based journalist Howard Hosmer, who apparently produced a Morse career retrospective for a local station. Farese died before Hosmer could return Lee's mementos. Hosmer himself died in the 1960s or 1970s. more waiting.....the songs!!

Be sweet to me
Blue, turning grey, over you
By my side
Careless love
Cooking breakfast for the one I love
Could I, I certainly could
Don't even change a picture on the wall
Don't get collegiate
Don't get sleepin'
Don't keep me in the dark
Everybody loves my baby, but my baby don't love nobody but me
He's a good man to have around
He's still my baby
I like pie, I like cake
I love you so
I still get a thrill (thinking of you)
I'm an unemployed sweetheart
If I can't have have you
If you want the rainbow
In the hush of the night
In the middle of the night
In the music racket
In the sing song sycamore tree
It's the girl
Just a little while
Keep sweeping the cobwebs off the moon
Let a smile be your umbrella
Let's do it
Lonely for you
Look what you've done to me
Love letters in the sand
Love me
Mail man blues
Main Street down home
Miss you
Mississippi mud
Moanin' low
Mollie make up your mind
My sugar babe
Nobody cares if I'm blue
Oh what I wouldn't do for that man
Old fashioned romance
Old man sunshine, little boy bluebird
Side by side
Since I lost you
Sing you sinners
Somebody said
Something in the night
Sweetheart's holiday
T'ain't no sin (to dance around in your bones)
The little white house
Walking my baby back home
Want a little lovin'
What I wouldn't do for that man
When a woman gets blue 1
When a woman gets blue 2
When I lost you
Where the shy violets grow
Yes Sir, that's my baby
You are my own

(A little note....some of these tracks were hard to find....the quality and bit rate is low.....)


  1. there is something so sad about her... I guess that's why her blues were so good...

    wonderful post... informative, eye and (h)ear candy...

  2. She's so different than anyone that was recording back took quite a few years for me to appreciate what she was doing. She has the most unusual style and voice. Her blues were good, I think, because it just came out of her...she wasn't trying to sound black...or white, for that matter..just a very personal, natural way of feeling the lyric and vibe of any song she did....

    Glad you liked it :)

  3. I just discovered Lee Morse last week and now I'm in love.
    Thanks for the great songs, information and pictures.

  4. I keep discovering more each time I visit the site.

    Thanks! -- Mr. Jim

  5. Lee Morse was special...and she still is.

  6. Do you have or have you found anyone that her sheet music???