June 22nd, 2024

Seven female singing stars feted by Lee, who lets the ‘music speak for itself’

By Chris Brown on June 21, 2018.

Ranee Lee will perform her show ÒDark DivasÓ at the Esplanade on June 22 as part of Medicine Hat JazzFest.


Ranee Lee’s “Dark Divas” on Friday is a show unlike any other you’ll see at this year’s Medicine Hat JazzFest and possibly for many years to come.

The one-woman show, 7:30 p.m. in the Esplanade Theatre, combines comedy, monologues, a bit of history and of course jazz as Lee fetes seven female singers who came before her and blazed the trail for her near 50-year career — women like Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

“I tribute the women of a generation that inspired me and that I look up to and enjoyed the path that they laid out for me and people in my generation who aspire to be as great and wonderful as they are,” Lee said this week.

Lee compares the seven — which also includes Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey and Sarah Vaughan — to a giant tree with many branches.

“The premise of the tree is that we’re all musical bound but the personality and the way in which they became who they were is what was sustainable for their career as well as mine,” she said.

Lee, who recalls being at Medicine Hat JazzFest about six years ago, explains she gives a synopsis of the performers to create a propelled feeling of knowledge to drive the show forward so the audience might be able to recognize their personalities and persona in the music. For someone like Baker, Lee said, that’s her “showbiz-oriented style” that captivated hundreds of thousands. For Horne it’s her elegance and sophistication as well as her no-nonsense attitude. For Bailey it’s the comedic tone and levity she brought to songs.

There’s at least one common denominator for them all.

“The music still speaks for itself,” Lee said.

Lee hasn’t given a lot of thought as to whether she might someday be the subject of a similar tribute. She said it would be wonderful but she gets a similar feeling performing now.

“I get all of that when the audience seems to enjoy what it is we’re doing to scratch away at the surface of lives and relax in the comfort of the music that’s being performed.”

And she has some hopes for this year’s JazzFest.

“I wish everybody a wonderful festival and to keep the music in your hearts for as long as you can.”

For full JazzFest details visit medicinehatjazzfest.com.

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