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Oklahoma Memories

Lee Wiley


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"'Don't Blame Me' - Lee Wiley's going to sing it. Lee Wiley singing: Ever since the lucky day I found you, I've hung around you, just like a fool, Falling head in heels in love like..."

That's the voice of Lee Wiley, long forgotten jazz singer from Oklahoma.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

In the history of music, and particularly jazz, many Oklahomans were at the forefront of that genre. Charlie Christian, Jimmy Rushing, Patti Page, Ernie Fields to name a few. There are many more jazz artists from Oklahoma whose names are now lost in history. Among those names Lee Wiley, jazz and blues singer from Oklahoma, who made her mark on the genre in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s.

Lee Wiley was born October 9, 1908, in Fort Gibson. By the time she was a teenager, she singing professionally in Tulsa, appearing on local radio programs there. In 1930 she left Oklahoma for New York City to sing with the Leo Reisman Orchestra.

"Lee Wiley singing: Time on my hands, you in my arms, nothing but love in view. Then if you fall, once and for all, I'll see my dreams come true."

That is a 1931 recording of the Reisman Orchestra featuring Lee Wiley.

Wiley's career peaked in the mid-1930s when she launched a successful CBS radio series titled Saturday Night Swing. From 1936 to 1938 she was the star vocalist.

This is the opening to their first anniversary show broadcast on June 12, 1937.

"...and so we herald the opening of the first anniversary session of the Saturday Night Swing Club, marking a full year of a series of programs devoted by the Columbia Network to that thing called Swing."

With more than 50 recordings to her credit, Wiley was the first jazz vocalist to record albums devoted to one composer's works, including Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, and George Gershwin.

Meanwhile Lee continued appearing on big band and jazz shows on various radio networks.

"Brought to you from the beautiful Wagon Room of the famous Rustic Lodge, and tonight our final guest artist, a Miss Lee Wylie on the vocals and Henry Red Allen on the horn, and so until next Thursday evening at 10:15, a very happy night of listening to all of you."

Wiley was featured in a 1963 television drama based on her life (Something about Lee Wiley) on Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater on NBC. Piper Laurie played Lee Wiley in that program.

(clip from show) "'I just want to go home and sit on mama's porch, look northeast, feel her fire going.''1,500 [unintelligible] miles from Oklahoma City to Columbus. See I saved you a trip.'"

During the same period she continued her recording career.

"Come to me, my melancholy baby,"

Lee Wiley passed away from colon cancer on December 11, 1975, in New York City. She is buried in the cemetery at Fort Gibson. In 2000 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Music Hall of Fame, and in 2003 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Lee Wiley, a voice for the ages.

Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past.I'm Michael Dean.