Barbara Lea
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Barbara Lea
April 10, 1929 - December 26, 2011
New York singer and actress, Barbara Lea, passed away peacefully in Raleigh on December 26, 2011, surrounded by her dear friends, Jeanie and Bill Wilson and Bob "Junk" Ussery. Barbara fought bravely in her long battle with Alzheimer's and continued to record and make personal appearances until she was no longer able to do so.
A 1951 graduate of Wellesley College, Ms. Lea majored in music theory and in 2009, received their highest honor, the Alumnae Achievement Award for excellence in her field. She studied acting, received a Masters degree in drama from Cal-State Northridge and worked as an actress in everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim. Singing was her life's passion; Barbara was one of the most widely respected and admired interpreters of the classic American popular song. An uncompromising jazz singer with style and taste, she has been called "one of the greatest singers of our time" by the New York Times. Her long career has taken her from cabarets and concert stages in New York and Boston to recording studios and theatres across the world.
Her professional career started upon graduation and her early recordings were met with immediate critical acclaim. In 1956, Ms. Lea won the DownBeat International Critics' Poll Award as the best new singer. During her career, Ms. Lea worked with many major musicians including Marian McPartland, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, and Bobby Hackett. Among her influences were Lena Horne, Dinah Shore, Billie Holiday, Lee Wiley and Mabel Mercer along with Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berrigan and Sy Oliver. In 1978, she appeared on the groundbreaking public radio show American Popular Song with Alec Wilder. The program won a Peabody Award and was responsible for the resurgence in her career - leading to albums, performances, and rave notices by the New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Nation.
The 1980's found her working alongside Benny Goodman as well as with cornetist Dick Sudhalter, vocalist-pianist Daryl Sherman, and tenor saxophonist-pianist Loren Schoenberg in the group Mr. Tram Associates, an association that continued well into the 1990's. In more recent years, she sang with the big bands of Bob January and Loren Schoenberg and headlined at Jan Wallman's supper club in Manhattan. She also was in charge of the long running series Midday Jazz at St. Peter's church in Manhattan. Her last CD was recorded and released in 2006 "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." A memorial service will be held in New York City, to be announced at a later date.

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Published in The News & Observer on Dec. 30, 2011.
Memories & Condolences
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25 entries
June 27, 2012
We knew Barbara for well over 30 years going back to her days as vocalist for Bob january's big band. Barbara graced us by singing at our home many times including several of my birthday bashes. She was a wonderfully gracious lady and a helluva singer. Nelson and I will miss her dearly.
David Giffler
March 25, 2012
February 27, 2012
Dearest Barbara , A singer of Light, a Knower of Souls, a Deep Treasure of Love to the Heart, a Luminous and rare Gem to all who knew her. Thank you for your friendship and your beautiful song.
Theresa Bucci
February 13, 2012
The High Priestess of Popular Song London 2005
February 13, 2012
Ain't she Beautiful!!
February 5, 2012
what a great singer. what beautiful songs she sang. where have you gone (been)?

wally campbell melbourne australia (pianist)
January 13, 2012
"The sound of music will lead us to where you are" dear Barbara .
Forrest Terrell
January 13, 2012
Barbara was more than a singer to me. She was a dear friend and also my sister-in-law. My children remember when our home was filled with song when "singin' aunt Barbara" (as she known) would sing amazing duets with their father.
January 11, 2012
betsy leacock
January 9, 2012
We are saddened to know she and her gift are gone. She will be remembered for her artistry.
Bill Kirchner and Judy Kahn
P.S. If someone can do it, her Facebook page needs an update....
January 8, 2012
Philip Halla
January 6, 2012
Along with Billie, Connee and Lee (Wiley), Barbara was one of the greatest of all jazz singers. Her warmth, musicality and honesty shone through every performance. Like Mary O'Benar, I particularly love Prestige 7605, with Johnny Windhurst, but there are many opther great recordings that happily, we can all still enjoy. Farewell, Barbara!
Jim Denham
January 5, 2012
When Whitney Balliet's wonderful article about Barbara was published in the New Yorker, Barbara didn't have any shows coming up. I urged her to book a few late shows at Jan Wallman's and get the word out. But she didn't believe people would come just because of the article. It seemed to me that she wanted to enjoy the article in and of itself, that to use it for marketing would sully the pleasure of it. Barbara, I will miss you.
Annie Dinerman
January 3, 2012
I am one of the many, many friends of Barbara who will be missing her. And I am thankful to Jeanie and her husband for caring for her...a loving ''family" when Barbara needed one.

Pinky Winters
Pinky Winters
January 3, 2012
Barbara Lea w Johnny Windhurst Quin Prestige 7605 12"
Out of 5000 jazz albums in our front room, years ago I decided Barbara Lea Prestige 7605 has no equal- that singing is plain, pure musical clarity. She surely was an economical one-take smoothie, no dramatics, no fuss, picture perfect control. Thanks Ms Lea, very very much-- Mary O'Benar
Mary O'Benar
January 2, 2012
Barbara was presented with the Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement award in February, 2009. I had the honor of escorting her for the day and evening. She was an amazing singer and incredibly special person. My condolences to Jeannie who cared for her so wonderfully and to Bill and Bob.
I am glad Barbara is at peace.
Marilyn Smith
January 2, 2012
Barbara was a wonderful singer, often overlooked. It's too bad she never received the recognition she deserved. But her work will live on in her excellent recordings. She will be missed for her talent and her lovely personality.
Rick Sandler
January 1, 2012
Barbara was a lovely, lovely person, and one of the simplest, sincerest, most musical singers of her time. Her taste in songs and her taste in performing them was unequalled. I'll never forget her singing "Just a Little Bit More" with Wes McAfee -- so simple, so touching, so beautiful. But any song she sang, she made her own, and did so with scrupulous fidelity to what the writers wrote. We've been missing her for a long time.
Christopher Berg
December 30, 2011
Barbara….you will be missed. Thanks for your lasting gift of music which we will enjoy with fond remembrance.(Joe Shepherd, Sterling, VA)
December 30, 2011
A wonderful, dear lady and one of the greatest singers ever! She will be missed.
Alan Eichler
December 30, 2011
i met barbara during the late Dick Sudhalter and was lucky enough to pair her with the great keith ingham for 3 cd's of which i'm very proud. she was a wonderful, funny, witty and warm person and a hell of a singer and i shall miss her very much. gabriel will enjoy playing behind her. bless you barbara.
chris ellis
December 30, 2011
My memories of Barbara go back to our college days and the many happy times at WHRB, the Harvard College radio station where even in her formative years, we knew she would be a star. She never disappointed us.
Ralph Colin
December 29, 2011
We will miss her very much. Thankfully, we have our memories of her concerts and gigs, and of course, her wonderful recordings. She was a great lady, a beautiful woman, and a terrific singer. May she rest in peace.
Gregg Culling
December 29, 2011
Barbara's elegant, playful and beautifully versatile voice made the most of every song she sang. She brought that rare combination of deep feeling and great intelligence to her performances, especially to the words and music of those wonderful composers and lyricists of what we refer to as the Great American Songbook. Barbara's generous heart gave much to many. She leaves a lasting impact far beyond what she ever could imagine. Rest in peace Barbara.
Marcia Bennett
December 29, 2011
We know this Lady is in Heaven 'cause "The Devil Is Afraid of Music". ("Sing [Barbara] sing . . .") Please say "Hello" to Loonis and Alec.
Willie Hobson
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