Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page

Bonnie Lee (June 11, 1931 September 7, 2006) was an American Chicago blues singer. Known as 'Sweetheart of the Blues', she is best remembered for her lengthy working relationships with Sunnyland Slim and Willie Kent. David Whiteis, who interviewed Lee in researching his book, Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories stated, "she was one of the last of her genre, the big-voiced woman blues singer fronting a Chicago band."
bonnie lee

She was born Jessie Lee Frealls in Bunkie, Louisiana, United States, and raised in Beaumont, Texas.

After learning to play the piano as a child, her mother refused to let her join gospel singer Lillian Glinn on tour. Instead she did later tour with the Famous Georgia Minstrels, meeting both Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Big Mama Thornton.

In 1958 she moved to Chicago, and chose the stage name of Bonnie Lee, working as both a dancer and singer. Two years later she signed a recording contract with J. Mayo Williams' Ebony Records label. The downside was Williams' insistence on her being billed as Bonnie "Bombshell" Lane on her first single, "Sad and Evil Woman." It was a name she disliked but, after the single failed to sell, she returned to the Chicago jazz and blues nightclubs. She was later billed as Bonnie Lee Murray, using her then husband's surname.

In 1967 Lee first appeared on the bill with the pianist Sunnyland Slim, and their working arrangement included residencies at a number of Chicago clubs. This led her, at the end of the 1970s, to release further singles via the Slim owned record label, Airway Records. After suffering health problems at the end of that decade, Lee then enjoyed a long professional partnership with Willie Kent. For many years the combination of Lee backed by Willie Kent and the Gents, became a regular feature in B.L.U.E.S., a noted Chicago club. There she sang her most famous numbers; "Im Good" and "Need Your Love So Bad."

In 1982, and partnered with Zora Young and Big Time Sarah as 'Blues with the Girls', Lee toured Europe and cut a joint album in Paris, France. In 1992 Lee guested on Magic Slim's album, 44 Blues, with John Primer. Finally in her own name, in 1995 Delmark Records released, Sweetheart of the Blues, and three years later another collection, I'm Good, was issued.
In September 2006, after years of poor health, Lee died at the age of 75