Lee Morse Collection, IJC - International Jazz Collections

Extended Biography

Lee Morse as a child

Lee Morse as a child

Lena Corinne Taylor was born, to Pleasant John and Olive Taylor, in Cove, Oregon on November 30, 1897. The Taylor family relocated to the small town of Kooskia, Idaho in 1908. Lena was one of two daughters and eleven sons, all children of Pastor Pleasant John Taylor. Lena married Elmer Morse in 1915, and the next year she gave birth to her only son, Jack.

In 1920 Lena left Elmer and Kooskia to pursue her musical career as a vaudeville performer, and work for musical comedy producer, Will King. She gained fame as a vaudeville performer, and critics were impressed by her vocal range. “Rowland Bond once theorized that Lee’s well-developed lower range was the result of years of singing with her brothers and attempting to match their intonation.”1 “It was not uncommon for those who heard her on record or radio to think it was a man’s voice they were hearing.”2

Lee was one of the most recorded female vocalists of the 1920s. A recording contract with the Pathé label launched her professional career. Pathé allowed Lee’s musical experimentation characterized by woops and yodels. While under the Pathé label Lee seized the opportunity to record her own musical compositions. Lee changed to the Columbia label in 1927. Lee Morse was one of Columbia’s most popular female performers during 1927 to 1932.

Lee Morse with Bob Downey

Lee Morse with Bob Downey

Lee met pianist, Bob Downey, who accompanied her both on stage and in real life. It is unofficially known if they were ever married. “As stage gigs became scarce during the depression, Morse settled for club acts, and even opened a club with pianist Bob Downey in Texas, which ran until it burned down in 1939.”3 That same year they resettled in Rochester, New York to hunt for club engagements. Soon after the move her relationship with Bob Downey ended.

Ray Farese rejuvenated Lee’s career by landing her a Rochester radio show and appointments at local clubs. Lee Morse and Ray Farese were married in 1946. Lee Morse yearned for a comeback with the song entitled, Don’t Even Change a Picture on the Wall in 1951, written in the 1940s for the WWII soldiers. Regrettably, Lee only received local success with this song.

Lee Morse later in life

Lee Morse later in life

Lee Morse’s life ended suddenly while visiting a neighbor on December 16, 1954, at the age of 57. “After her death, 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.”4 Howard Hosmer, one of Lee’s biggest fans, died before her mementos could be returned to Ray Farese.

(Summarized from the Lee Morse web page created by Kristi O’Connell Myers. www.leemorse.net (archived at the web archive))

Information about Lee Morse may also be found at www.leemorse.com, created by Ian House.

References

  1. Leemorse.net (http://web.archive.org/web/20080705202036/http:/www.leemorse.net/)
  2. Leemorse.com
  3. Shazam.com
  4. Imdb.com

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