Lee Wiley Day

October 9, 1908 – December 11, 1975

 

A tribute to the sensuous yet subtle swing singer

Singer Lee Wiley was born October 9, 1908 in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.

Throughout her career, she fit into her own musical category, evoking a cool sensuality while implying much more than she stated.

Wiley ran away from home when she was 19, worked on the radio in St. Louis and Chicago, and settled in New York in the late 1920s.

She made her recording debut with Leo Reisman’s orchestra in 1931, had a hit with “Time On My Hands,” and became closely associated both musically and personally with composer Victor Young.

With Young, she co-composed “Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere” and “Got The South In My Soul,” developed into a sophisticated cabaret singer, and appeared regularly on the radio.

After surviving a bout with tuberculosis, she broke up with Young and became involved with the married trumpeter Bunny Berigan, turning her attention towards jazz.

Wiley worked on the Saturday Night Swing Club radio series during 1936-39, performed with Eddie Condon, and during 1939-43 made her most important recordings.

Lee Wiley was the first singer to devote an entire album (which in that period was a collection of four 78s) to the music of one composer, recording songbook albums of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and Rodgers & Hart, 15 years before Ella Fitzgerald made her songbooks.

After the affair with Berigan ended, Wiley married pianist Jess Stacy and worked with him for several years before they were divorced.

While the singer recorded several fine albums in the 1950s (including Nights In Manhattan and eight-tune songbooks of the music of Irving Berlin and Vincent Youmans), and appeared at the very first Newport Jazz Festival, she gradually faded from the jazz scene.

In 1971, she made a surprise return, recording her final album and making an unexpected appearance at a Carnegie Hall concert in 1972 but that was her final success; she passed away on December 11, 1975 at the age of 67.

Here she is singing “Down With Love” in 1940 with a combo that features trumpeter Bunny Berigan.

-Scott Yanow

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