Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Vocalist Barbara Lea was born Barbara LeCocq on April 10, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan. She traces her musical heritage back to a great uncle, Alexandre Charles LeCoq, an important nineteenth-century composer of French light opera. Born into a musical family, she worked with small dance bands there before attending Wellesley College on scholarship and majoring in music theory.
Boston was a hotbed of jazz in the late 40s and early 50s, allowing Barbara to sing with major instrumentalists such as Marian McPartland, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Frankie Newton, Johnny Windhurst, and George Wein. At the same time, she sang in the college choir, worked on the campus radio station and newspaper, and arranged for and conducted the Madrigal Group and brass choir concerts
Her professional career started upon graduation. Her early recordings for Riverside and Prestige met with immediate critical acclaim and led to her winning the Down Beat International Critics' Poll as the "Best New Singer" of 1956. She appeared in small clubs in New York, including the renowned Village Vanguard, and throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada, as well as on radio and TV.
She studied acting to improve her stage presence and, with the near-demise of classic pop in the early 60s, turned to the legitimate theater, performing an impressive list of leading and feature roles in everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim. She moved to the West Coast and received her M.A. in drama at Cal. State-Northridge, then returned to New York and taught speech at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and acting at Hofstra College. In the 1970s, with the resurgence of interest in show tunes and popular standards, Barbara Lea was literally sought out to appear in the Peabody Award-winning National Public Radio series American Popular Song with Alec Wilder and Friends. This led to two lengthy feature articles in The New Yorker (where Whitney Balliett declared "Barbara Lea has no superior among popular singers") and a revitalized singing career.
Barbara has starred in the JVC, Kool, and Newport Jazz Festivals several times, but her increasing devotion to the songs as written has led to concerts of the works of Rodgers and Hart, Arthur Schwartz, Cy Coleman, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, and the Gershwins, as well as cabaret appearances devoted to Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Yip Harburg. She has over a dozen CDs currently available on the Audiophile label, plus reissues of two early LPs on Fantasy/Original Jazz Classics, and two recent releases on the European-based label Challenge as well as several on her private label.