1902 – 1958
Born in Boonville, Missouri, and raised in Kansas City, Julia Lee was a singer and pianist whose work incorporated both blues and jazz.
She began her musical career in the early 1920s, playing piano and singing with the band led by her brother, George Lee. She launched a solo career in 1935 and secured a recording contract with Capitol Records in 1944. Lee was famous for her “dirty blues,” double entendre numbers she described as “songs my mother taught me not to sing.”
Among her hits were “Gotta Gimme Watcha Got,” “Snatch and Grab It,” “King Size Papa,” “I Didn’t Like It the First Time,” and “My Man Stands Out.“ Most of these records were by “Julia Lee and Her Boy Friends,” an integrated group that often included pianist Jay McShann, saxophonist Benny Carter, vibraphonist Red Norvo, and cornettist Red Nichols.
Although her recording career slowed after 1949, she continued to perform regularly in the Kansas City area and on tours. She was married to Frank Duncan, the catcher/manager of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.