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Lee Morse

A torch song singer renowned for her versatility, Lee Morse's troubles with alcohol prevented her from attaining the fame her talents promised. Born Lena Taylor in 1897, Morse grew up in a musical family in Kooskia, Idaho. After marrying and having a son, she left her family for the vaudeville circuit of the west coat around 1920, signing with producer Will King. A year later, she began working in musical revues with Kolb & Dill. In 1922, Morse joined the Pantages circuit, and played to rave reviews. Many wondered how the petite singer could produce such a deep sound, and one Variety writer supposed her low range came from trying to match her brothers' voices throughout her youth. Morse began recording with Pathe-Perfect in 1924, laying down several of her own compositions, such as "Telling Eyes," "Those Daisy Days" and "An Old Fashioned Romance." Lee Morse & Her Blue Grass Boys included trumpeter Manny Klein, Eddie Lang on guitar, and two brothers who played clarinet and trombone named Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey.

Switching to Columbia in 1927, Morse continued working the stage and won a role in Zeigfield's Simple Simon that could have cemented her legacy. But a bender left Morse unable to perform the first show, and Ruth Etting stepped in to take her place. The show's signature song, "Ten Cents a Dance," helped launch Etting to fame, while Morse's Broadway career quickly ended. She still managed to film musical shorts throughout the '30s, including A Million Me's, Lee Morse in the Music Racket, and Song Service. As stage gigs became scarce during the depression, Morse settled for club acts, and even opened a club with pianist Rob Downey in Texas, which ran until it burned down in 1939. Then Morse's marriage to Downey disintegrated, leaving her even more dependant on alcohol. She moved to Rochester, New York, and in 1946 married Ray Farese, who landed her a radio show and club dates. The singer attempted a comeback with the song "Don't Even Change a Picture on the Wall" in 1951. She died at 57 in 1954. ~ Ron DePasquale, Rovi
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