Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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King, Denise (Sybil Denise Lester)

King, Denise [Sybil Denise Lester], singer; b. Philadelphia, PA, 31 October 1954. She was born to father Walden Sybel Lester (born 6/1/26, deceased) who was a teacher, barber and writer and mother Mary Helen Tatum (born 10/2/26) who, although she'd won a 4 year scholarship to college elected to stay home and raise her children. Her sister is Marilyn Lester (born 2/18/48) and her brothers are Wyman Spencer Lester (born 8/12/53), Carlton Stanley Lester (born 1/31/57, deceased) and Anthony Lester (9/18/58).

While growing up, she was always around her brothers who were drummers in local bands. She followed them and their groups around but never realized that she too had musical talent until in her 30's. In April 29th 1972 she married Ernest King immediately after high school. It wasn't until 1985 that Denise's musical career began. Little did she know that she had been preparing for a career in music at a very young age. At age 12 while most young people were listening to The Motown Sound or R&B, Denise would find herself at her Uncle Herb's spending many hours listening to and learning his entire collection of Jazz LP's. Her career in Jazz happened completely by accident. It was many years later while raising a family and working as a Medical Tech at a major teaching hospital that Denise learned that she could sing. One day while sweeping her front stoop, a musician friend, Rahman Rasheed, heard her singing and insisted upon auditioning her for an upcoming engagement.  He gave her what would be the first of many jobs. At that time she was separated from her husband and a single parent. After learning that she would be paid to sing, she happily accepted the job.. After that day, she began perfecting her craft at local clubs and jam sessions, meeting musicians and sitting in. At that time she had ten songs in her repertoire. A few month's later, she met Sam Reed (sax) a Jazz legend, friend and mentor. Sam was the musical director for the Uptown Theater during the 1950's-60's and later for R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass. Sam heard Denise sing and hired her for some of her first serious engagements. During her earlier performances, she suffered from terrible stage fright and shyness. It was Sam Reed who taught her how to conquer her fears and give her best performance. Soon local clubs and private parties progressed to major clubs, concerts and festivals. While performing at a local Jazz club, Dexter Wansel of Philadelphia International Records happened to be in the audience. He called upon Denise to do recording sessions and background vocals for R&B recording artist.

In 2000, after a trip to Germany, Denise started a community based Jazz series. The series runs every Friday from May to September. Denise felt the series was necessary so that Jazz artist would have a musician friendly venue in which to perform. A community based Jazz series would also give the residents easy access to Jazz. The series attracts listeners from age 2 to 85+ and has introduced many youngsters to Jazz. In 2001,because there were so many children present Denise started a book drive Bebop and Books which has kept inner city children reading throughout the summer months. In September 2002, she began teaching voice at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 2003 she will begin producing other artists.

Her sons are Ernest, Duane (Malik), and Renard (Bilal) King.

Live in Japan: I Remember You (1995); Now...Ain't That Love (1996); Simply Mellow (1998); FEVER (2002)
As sideperson:
Billy Paul: Your Songs (2002); Walter Bell and The Latin Jazz Unit (featured on "Little Girl Blue" and "They Say It's Wonderful," 2002); Post Hip Music: Song of The Griot; Andy Fortuna: Latin Jams 6; Background Vocals on Philadelphia International Records with 
Phyllis Hyman & Dexter Wansel; 5 Months to Mars (currently not issued)


Contact information:
c/o BCP Management
Barbara Cooper
P.O. Box 16693
Philadelphia, PA 19139
215 314 8098

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