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Tribute to Jeanne Lee

I am very much saddened that, as many of you already know, the great and beautiful singer / composer / lyricist / educator Jeanne Lee, who was very ill with cancer, left us on October 25th. In Jeanne's memory, I have written this personal tribute.


When I was a New York City youngster just discovering this music, the great and beautiful Jeanne Lee did it all for me. First, she'd open me up to sonic possibilities I'd never heard in human voice before, her courage to go for them creating a hunger in me to seek out other such fearless musical explorers. Next time she'd be singing a straight-up ballad, true note for true note and on-melody, and making me ache to hear each subsequent word and note before she delivered them, even though I already knew what they'd be. Now she'd astonish me by jamming on a children's jump-rope rhyme, innocent and free, and clear as truth, and deeply grooved as an African dance. Or another time, a majestic operatic piece, all European dignity and cathedral cadences. Then she'd be getting DOWN on a nasty blues.

There was simply nothing Jeanne Lee couldn't do with her beautiful voice and the inspiration and intelligence and vision and knowledge and power and courage she had. And then, just to complete the picture, she was physically magnificent too, and gracious, warm, and welcoming to a shy youngster stricken dumb by worship. And she wrote her own music and lyrics, sometimes had her own bands, earned a master's degree in musicology, taught in conservatories, raised her own children, traveled the world - what a woman!! And still would be so generous as to stand before me holding one of her perfect notes, time stilled, all my fears and struggles forgotten, long enough to heal me up and send me, all new and ready for more life, on my way. Jeanne Lee. She'll always be doing all that, for me, for you, for us all. Let us give thanks.

In love and music,

© Margaret Davis, Editor and Publisher of Art Attack

Originally published in "Art Attack!," the newsletter for and about liberation musicians in NYC, on the Web at

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jeanne Lee
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