Jazz Vocalist / Musician / TV Host / Author, Justin Time Records & Educator, University of Laval & The Schulich School of Music of McGill University, Montreal QC. Born: U.S.A.
Ranee Lee is a Brooklyn-born jazz performer who sings, acts, dances, and who has become renowned for her conception, development and performance of Dark Divas, The Musical, a tribute to seven Black female jazz greats.
After touring North America in the 1970s as a tenor saxophonist and drummer, Ranee moved to Montreal, and was chosen to star in the first Canadian production of Lady Day, a musical portraying the life of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday. This 1988 performance, along with her 1989 recording Deep Song, brought her vocal talents to jazz fans and concert producers across North America and Europe.
Since then, Ranee has established herself as one of Canada’s premier jazz vocalists. She has released 10 albums, featuring jazz greats like Oliver Jones, Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen, Milt Hinton, Clark Terry and John Clayton. Several of those recordings, including, I Thought About You, Dark Divas, and Maple Groove: Songs from the Great Canadian Songbook, have been nominated for Juno Awards. She has also performed with many other jazz notables, including Bill Mayes, Herbie Ellis, Red Mitchell, Jeff Hamilton, David Murray, John Bunch, and George Arvanitas, to name a few.
Her award-winning portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day inspired Ranee to write and star in Dark Divas, The Musical, which depicted the lives and careers of seven of the most popular female jazz singers of the 20th century: Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Elle Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, and Dinah Washington. In 2001, she co-starred in Sadie Delany, a non-musical production about a 103 year-old survivor of racism. In 2003, Ranee co-starred in Stormy Weather, the story of American composer Harold Arlen, which debuted on CBC Television. And in 2009, she starred in the highly acclaimed and successful Black Theatre Work Shop production of Swan Song of Maria, which depicted the ravaging effects of Alzheimer disease within a family.
Other career highlights include acting opposite Billy Dee Williams in Giant Steps in 1991, an appearance as the opening act for the late George Burns at Montreal’s Place Des Arts in 1993, and a televised adaptation of Lady Day entitled White Gardenia, in 1994.
As the host of the television series The Performers, for the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network in the U.S. and BRAVO in Canada, Ranee showcases the talents of Canadian jazz musicians to American and Canadian audiences. She is also an esteemed jazz educator, having been a member of the University of Laval’s faculty in Quebec City for eight years, and The Schulich School of Music of McGill University’s faculty for over 20 years. And she is a respected cultural advocate, and author of a children’s book, Nana, What Do You Say?
In 2006, Ranee Lee was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.
Other: Headlined a Western Canadian Jazz Festival tour, and a tour of the United States (1995); featured artist in Canadian Jazz Greats, a month-long South African tour (1996). Performed in many prestigious jazz festivals, most recently the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Canada Capital festival in Sao Paulo; performed at the Classical Spring Rishon LeZion Performing Arts Centre, considered to be the newest and finest in Israel (2002 & 2005). Featured guest vocalist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at Place Des Arts for their 75th anniversary and series (2008); performed with the National Arts Centre Symphony Orchestra in tribute to Oscar Peterson (2009).
Works: Discography: Live At Le Bijou (1984); Deep Song (1989); The Musicals – Jazz On Broadway (1992); I Thought About You (1994); You Must Believe In Swing (1996); Seasons Of Love (1996); Dark Divas (double recording; 2000); Maple Groove (2003); Just You, Just Me (2005); Ranee Lee Lives Upstairs (2008).
Honours: Honoured at the “Visions Celebration ‘88”, the Black Theatre Workshop and the Foundation for Minority Arts and Culture; received Top Canadian Female Jazz Vocalist Award, Jazz Report Magazine (1994 & 1995); I Thought About You was the first Juno nominated jazz recording in the Best Mainstream Jazz category (1995); Best Female Jazz Vocalist Award, AFIM (1998); Juno Award nominee, Maple Groove (2003); nominee and finalist, Personal, and Professional Accomplishments, Social Commitment and an Important Contribution to the Advancement of Women, an award to be given for, Women of Distinction \ by The Women’s Y Foundation of Montreal (2003); Indie Award nominee for Just You, Just Me (2006), which also won the Toronto Urban Music Award (2005); inclusion in Who’s Who in Black Canada 2 (2006). Appreciation and Contribution award for the development of the McGill Jazz program by the McGill Schulich School of Music for her outstanding service to jazz education (2007); ACTRA Award of Excellence for lifetime achievement (2008). Received the International Association of Jazz Educators award at the 21st IAJE conference (1994), and the Certificate of Appreciation at their 35th conference (2008). Won Best Jazz Vocal Album for Ranee Lee Lives Upstairs (2010).
Favourite book? One of my most recent favourite books is the Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. It is very well written and explored. It can captivate any audience, and it tells a story, and reminds a generation of a history that could be all too easily put aside by many. As an actor, to me the pages come alive with the conditions and hardships of that period, and it becomes a product of investment, and knowledge once again. As a Black woman, it stimulates and reinforces me with strength and courage that has been passed down from my ancestors, and is to be given in example to my children and their children. It is a book of worth!
Favourite quote? “And all people live, not by reason of any care they have for themselves, but by the love for them that is in other people.” – Leo Tolstoy
Given the chance, what would you love to do that you haven’t done yet? Travel to countries that I have not yet visited, and be mentally stimulated by other cultures and history that I have not yet become personally involved. And by this growth, become more spiritually aware…
Who or what inspires you? I am inspired by the bravery of my mother and her mother. I am inspired by the audacity of those who profess truth under any circumstance. I am inspired by nature. I am inspired by my family. And when it’s shown, I am inspired by love!
Why do you do what you do? Because I believe that I’ve been given many gifts, and it would be a mockery to all that I believe in, not to have followed the paths that have been set before me. The opportunities that have presented themselves, and their rewards, public or otherwise, is proof that in sacrifice, and dedication, the choices that I have made to follow my calling is valuable by example.