|Title||An Interview With Lee Morse - 1930|
An Interview With Lee Morse
(1897 – 1954)
Born as Lena Corinne Taylor
Exclusive Columbia Artist
Lee Morse had been a very popular recording artist, vocalist and actress of the 1920s and early 1930s.. She got her professional start in vaudeville around 1920 and went on to perform in several plays and musical revues on Broadway. In 1924 she began to make disks for Pathé Actuelle, accompanying herself on guitar, kazoo and ukulele. In the late 1940s she tried to revive her career and briefly had a local radio show in New York. She recorded one last song in 1950. She died, almost forgotten, in 1954.
While theoretically on the big circuit, Boston has a way of missing out on many stars who appear regularly to admiring audiences in other parts of the country. Not infrequently it happens that a songster who commands immense popularity in the South or West and whose records enjoy lively sales both in this country and abroad is almost entirely unknown in these Northeastern parts. So it happened that I first heard Lee Morse and her Blue Grass Boys by way of the phonograph. My reviews of her releases had an almost evangelical enthusiasm; here was one of the finest recording talents in the popular ranks, why in the world was she not generally recognized as such? But my “discovery” was just a few years slow. The Columbia Company continued to issue Miss Morse’s disks at a rate that indicated there was an insatiable demand for them and I was soon made aware that while Lee Morse might be something of an unfamiliar name to New England, it enjoyed no small renown elsewhere.
But last month the god of chance and exigency who presides over stage bookings relented and sent Miss Morse to Boston (her first appearance in New England) with Ziegfeld’s show, “Simple Simon,” playing here for a couple of weeks before opening in New York. Mr. Norman Smith, the manager of the local Columbia branch very kindly acted as intermediary in arranging for an interview and Miss Morse snatched a few minutes from the interminable rehearsals of a show that’s being “whipped into shape.” A tiny cubicle partly shut us off from the back-stage hubbub and afforded a hasty opportunity to get a vivid impression of the personality in back of that dark vibrant voice and gay attractive singing, while the stray bits of information I was able to secure on her recording career were later eked out somewhat by one of the Blue Grass Boys, the talented pianist of that remarkable little ensemble.
Miss Morse is a Texan, and very emphatically so, for her family is one of the oldest in the Lone Star State, and included one of the eight original Texas rangers. Her father was a minister and church singing offered her opportunity for her first public appearances. It took little time to reveal that she possessed unusual talent and her singing of Southern ballads and hill-billy songs soon took the entire South by storm.
She took her first recording test for Perfect records (Pathe Records) and it demonstrated so conclusively her natural recording aptitude, that she forthwith was starred. Both she and her co-star on the Perfect (Pathe) list, Ukulele Ike, kept the disk presses so busy that it was not long before Columbia, with its larger field, claimed them, and under the Columbia label they now maintain their remarkably consistent selling strength.
Since Miss Morse first began recording, some seven years ago (actually in 1924), she has been accompanied by her own little orchestra, — the Blue Grass Boys, whose accompaniments are models of their kind. During the three years or so I have been reviewing popular records for the P. M. R. I have found no other vocal records by a woman that could even distantly approach those by Miss Morse in the consistently perfect “fit” of the accompaniments and the veracity and purity of the recording of the solo voice itself. (Similar praise could be given to only one man — Willard Robison). I was intensely curious to discover Miss Morse’s “secret.
Obviously her voice is exceptionally suited to recording, but natural gifts could never account for its invariably skillful exposition. The secret proved to be the ensemble’s long experience in accompanying Miss Morse and in adapting their playing exactly to her singing. The group is a small one, but distinguished by its tonal homogeneity and attractive coloring. Only a skeleton orchestration is used and there are no rehearsals.
Miss Morse runs through her part a couple of times, indicating what she wants the orchestra to do, and after an experimental trial or two, they follow her perfectly. The playing is beautifully restrained to an underlining of the vocal line, with of course more independence between phrases and verses, but for all its restraint it is marvelously flexible and rich in unobtrusive interest. And best of all it has a spontaneity and naturalness that match these qualities in Miss Morse's singing.
For a long time her repertory consisted almost exclusively of Southern ballads, her own and hill-billy songs, and while now her stage and phonographic audiences are so large that all the conventional song types are demanded from her, it is in pieces marked by the Southern influence that she is most characteristic. Her voice is a duple one, combining a rich, husky, contralto with a less distinctively colored but pure soprano, and slipping from one to the other either smoothly or with a fascinating break — yodel-wise — at will.
Her enunciation puts that of most “celebrity” artists to shame, yet she gets the words of her songs over cleanly and unmistakably without any sense of forced precision. There is a buoyancy and lilt to her singing, an unaffected simplicity and straightforwardness to her manner, that make them irresistibly engaging. And the fact that these are sound as well as highly admirable virtues is attested by the fact that her records maintain an almost unequalled evenness of excellence and that they steadily gain further popularity.
Lately her success with widespread hits as Moanin'Low, I Must Have That Man, I'm Doing What I'm Doing for Love — songs closely associated with other recording artists, but doubly effective in Miss Morse's performances — has led to a demand for recordings of simlar love songs. Yet her style is most individual and striking in the songs that are lightened by even a trace of Southern sunshine, and much as one admires her skill in adapting herself to various styles, the more conventionalized songs give less scope to the light-hearted and resilient manner that puts her most characteristic records in a class all by themselves. So marked is this attractiveness that even in France and other foreign countries where the majority of the record-buyers cannot understand the words of her songs, her records are prime favorites.
Some typical examples of her records are Susianna (one of the very best) and Main Street, Moanin' Low and Sweetness, Love Me and Sweethearts' Holiday, A Little Kiss Each Morning and I Love You Believe Me I Love You, and her current release — Blue Turning Gray Over You (showing the southern touch) and Until You Came Along. One of her hits in “Simple Simon” should make one of her finest disks when it is recorded, — Ten Cents a Dance, a song of a dance hall hostess, a really touching little ballad whose mood Miss Morse catches to perfection.
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