Long before Bill Monroe ever had his Blue Grass Boys, Lee Morse had him beat to the punch, though with music not remotely similar. She sang, she yodeled, she played guitar—what’s not to love?
Lee Morse was born Lena Corinne Taylor on November 30, 1897 to to Pleasant John—a Texas Ranger-turned-traveling preacher—and Olive Taylor, the only girl of twelve children. Her younger brother Glen would go on to be a U.S. Senator of Idaho and run for Vice President in 1948 on the Progressive ticket. She was touted professionally for her Southern upbringing, but she was born Cove, Oregon, though her family did have roots south of the Mason-Dixon Line. She made her professional debut in an Idaho movie house in 1918, and later sang at the 1920 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Thereafter, Morse was discovered by vaudeville big shot Will King, and left her domestic life behind for a career in show business, adopting “Lee Morse” as her professional name. Though only five feet and under a hundred pounds, Morse possessed a deep singing voice—much like her younger contemporary Connie Boswell—which recorded well using the acoustical technology that preceded the advent of electric recording, and on her earliest records was credited as “Miss Lee Morse” to ensure that listeners would not confuse her for a male singer. In 1923, Morse signed with Pathé and began making records, staying with them until switching to Columbia four years later. On stage, she appeared in the musicals Hitchy-Koo of 1922, and Artists and Models in 1923. She was slated to appear in 1930’s Simple Simon, but her alcoholism—a problem she may have developed in an effort to combat crippling stage fright—caused her to lose the part to Ruth Etting. On the silver screen, Morse starred in three shorts, two Paramount: A Million Me’s [sic] and Song Service, and one Warner Bros.: The Music Racket, all in 1930. Her career slowed down as the Great Depression killed off record sales, and she switched from Columbia to Bluebird in 1933, making two discs for the fledgling dimestore label, then to Decca in 1938, producing another two. The rest of that decade was largely spent singing in nightclubs to make ends meet. In the 1940s, Lee hosted a local radio program in Rochester, New York, and she made her final phonograph records for Decca in 1950. Lee Morse died suddenly and unexpectedly on December 16, 1954.
Perfect 11580 was recorded on May 7, 1925 in New York City. It was also issued on Pathé 25146. These mid-1920s acoustic Pathé pressings are afflicted with a background rumble as a result of their recording process, which entailed mastering it first on a large cylinder, then dubbing it to a disc. I’ve tried to equalize out most of the rumble without detriment to the quality of the music, I hope the transfers will be pleasing to your ears.
First, Lee sings a jubilant rendition of a “roaring twenties” classic, Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson’s timeless “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby”. This is perhaps my personal favorite Lee Morse side, and certainly my favorite version of this song.
On the “B” side, Morse sings one of her own compositions, “An Old-Fashioned Romance”, and it’s a darn good one at that! On top of that, what a fine orchestration, topped off with a nice little Chicago-style ride out at the end. Morse recorded this tune again in 1927, after moving to Columbia Records. In my opinion, this one is the better of the two.