Julia Lee was born on October 31, 1902 in Boonville, Missouri and grew up in Kansas City. She is the most popular female Jazz and Rhythm & Blues singer out of Kansas City, Missouri and used to be called 'Kansas City Star'. She began performing during her childhood in her father's string trio in local congregations and on house parties. Lee started working as a pianist and singer in 1917 playing Ragtime and to attend silent movies in movie theatres.
She joined the orchestra of her brother, George E. Lee, in 1920 and stayed for 15 years. 1927 saw her first studio recordings made for the Merritt label arranged and accompanied by Jesse Stone. She launched a solo career in 1935 and soon became a star of the local Kansas City Jazz circuit. Capitol Records recognized her as the Kansas City Star and released her in 1944 within Capitol's 'History of Jazz'-series. She soon began performing along with popular Rhythm & Blues combos which led into the foundation of Julia Lee's own small band, 'Her Boyfriends'. Her band included famous musicians such as Benny Carter, Red Norvo, Tommy Douglas, Red Nichols and many more. Julia Lee & Her Boyfriends blasted off with 'Come On Over To My House, Baby' and 'Gimme Whatcha Got'. Both became her first juke box and radio hits which secured her first real contract with Capitol Records in 1946.
She went on with 'Snatch It And Grab It', #1 R&B charts for 12 weeks in 1947! 1948 saw her next number 1 hit exploding over the R&B charts for 9 weeks: 'King Size Papa'! 'I Didn't Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)' (#4 R&B charts) followed in 1949 and it was that same year when the American President Harry S. Truman, who is also a Missouri native, invited her to play the White House. Her success stagnated by the mid-1950s when Rock'n'Roll started its domination even that Julia Lee sounded more Rhythm & Blues alike than ever before. She continued producing and had a small acting role in a movie called 'The Delinquence', that had been filmed in Kansas City in 1957 by Hollywood director Robert Altman. Julia Lee died of a heart attack aged 56 on December 8, 1958. She is one of the most popular stars from the Kansas City area, she showed the world how to jazz up from Kansas City Jazz to Rhythm & Blues. She is a milestone in the history of popular music!
There was no overlooking the obscenity in much of Julia Lee's work, but, until Bear Family released its groundbreaking boxed set ('Kansas City Star', BCD 15770), many thought of it as her defining characteristic. The box revealed an eloquent jazz and blues stylist in the Kansas City tradition. In November 1944 Capitol's Dave Dexter took Julia Lee (1902-1958) into a KC studio and supervised her first Capitol session, on which she was accompanied by Jay McShann. The recordings were included in a 78rpm Capitol album, 'The History Of Jazz.' Before the album aroused any attention, Lee recorded a session for H.S. Somson's St. Louis-based Premier label with a band led by Tommy Douglas, an alto player who reportedly influenced the young Charlie Parker. With its stop-time verses, If It's Good swings mightily, and Somson later sold the entire session to Mercury. By the summer of 1946, deejays had pulled Julia's 78 from 'The History of Jazz' and played both sides more than any other selection.
Responding to the demand, Dexter signed Lee to Capitol and brought her to Hollywood. (With grateful acknowledgments to Bill Millar's notes for 'Kansas City Star'). Julia Lee (1902-1958) was one of the few popular postwar R&B singers whose recording career stretched back into the twenties. Long a fixture at Milton's Tap Room in Kansas City, she sang blues and ballads to an all-white clientele. Visiting jazzmen and blues aficionados invariably made pilgrimages to Lee's rollicking after-hours sets. Signed to Capitol Records in 1944, Lee tallied an impressive number of hits, many of them bawdy. (Opportunity Knocks But Once) Snatch It And Grab It stayed on top of 'Billboard's' R&B chart from November 1947 to February 1948.
Her follow-up, King Size Papa, grabbed the top spot for most of spring 1948. When Capitol released Don't Come Too Soon in July 1950, 'Billboard' actually warned potential buyers about its content: "Lyric is certainly too blue for airing and juke ops with finicky locations should listen carefully before installing this one." Though Lee continued recording for Capitol into 1952, the label lost interest in promoting her. Most of the sides she recorded after 1950 stayed in the can.