For several decades beginning in the 1930s there was a type of music known as the ‘dirty blues’, and it was very popular but you wouldn’t hear it on the radio. You could find it in live performances or on jukeboxes in certain kinds of places, and you could also buy records — but you probably wouldn’t find them in ‘respectable’ homes. It was mild and harmless when compared to many of today’s explicit popular songs, but it was wickedly funny and inventive, with titles and lyrics filled with innuendo and double-entendres. It was the perfect choice for Julia Lee, sometimes known as the Queen of the Dirty Blues.
Kansas City has always been an important part of the early history of jazz, with performers and leaders like Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Bennie Moten, and George E. Lee part of the local scene, and it was only natural that George’s sister Julia began joining in during the 1920s. She was a good pianist and singer and for many years was an audience favorite whenever the band performed, although her early vocals tended to be conventional songs of the era. However, she soon began blossoming into a sassy performer with songs like “If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight” and “Won’t You Come Over to My House”.
When George’s band dissolved in the early 1930s Julia continued working on her own, mostly in the Kansas City area. She would continue to do so right on through the war years and after, often backed by talented musicians like Benny Carter, Red Norvo, and Red Nichols, and billing herself as Julia Lee and Her Boyfriends. Some of her most popular records originated during this era, including songs like “Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got”, “I Didn’t Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)”, and “King Size Papa”. (Follow the album link below for more titles.)
By the early 1950s things had slowed down for Julia, but she continued to appear whenever possible, sometimes singing conventional blues but often performing ‘the songs my mother taught me not to sing’. She died of natural causes in 1958, just 56 years old.