Georgia Lee Exhibition

Georgia Lee circa 1950s
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Georgia Lee

Dulcie Pitt, known professionally as Georgia Lee, is one of Australia’s most distinguished jazz and blues singers. In celebration of her centenary of birth, the Australian Jazz Museum (AJM) is proud to present this online exhibition exploring the life and achievements of Georgia Lee. The exhibition showcases highlights from the museum’s collection of Georgia’s recorded works accompanied by digitised images of objects held by the AJM.

 

Squeeze Me

Band: Jimmy Somerville’s Jazz Rebels
Place: Sydney
Date: November 16, 1948
Musicians: Marsh Goodwin (t), Tony Barker (tb), Ron Mannix (cl), Wally Johnston (ts), Jimmy Somerville (p), Harry Shoebridge (g), Don Gordon (sb), Clive Whitcombe (d), Georgia Lee (v)
Accession number: 20945

Dulcie and the Pitt family

Ramer Lyra ‘Dulcie’ Pitt was born on the 22nd of February 1921, in Cairns, Australia. Dulcie was born into a large family with diverse heritage. Her mother, Myra Kemple-Hopkins, was of Scottish, Afghan and Aboriginal Kalkodoon descent. Her father, Douglas Pitt Junior, was born in the Torres Strait region, while his parents originated from the West Indies and Loyalty Island, New Caledonia. Dulcie and her siblings grew up within a musical family, who would perform to crowds at their home in Cairns. The Pitt siblings formed the Harmony Sisters with Dulcie and her sisters Sophie and Heather singing, and brother Walter playing the guitar.

During the 1940s and with the outbreak of World War II, Dulcie worked both as a housemaid and packed parachutes for the war effort. At night, she and her siblings entertained American servicemen with jazz and blues. The Pitts were invited to join the U.S. Service Organising Shows, performed at community events such as a Victory Show for the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF) and were broadcast on Queensland radio.

In 1944 Dulcie and her siblings moved to Sydney seeking greater career opportunities. The Pitts are notably remembered for their performances at the Tivoli Theatre where they were known as the ‘The Hawaiian Trio’. Ultimately, Dulcie’s siblings returned home to Cairns while she would pursue a solo career and adopt the professional name, Georgia Lee.

Dulcie Pitt performing with Wally and Heather Pitt
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

The Hawaiian Trio – Dulcie, Wally and Heather
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

The Harmony Sisters Dulcie, Sophie and Heather Pitt
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Dulcie Pitt posing with Wally and Heather
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Solo Career

Throughout the late 1940s Georgia Lee continued to sing jazz and blues. In Sydney she performed at well-known venues such as Gleneagles and the Roosevelt Club, and with established ensembles including Graeme Bell’s Jazz Band, the Port Jackson Jazz Band, the Jazz Rebels and the bands of Jack Brokensha and George Trevare.

Basin Street Blues

Band: Graeme Bell’s Australian Jazz Band
Composer: Williams
Copyright: Albert
Place: Melbourne
Date: September 21, 1950
Musicians: Roger Bell (t), Ade Monsbourgh (t), Don Roberts (cl), Deryck Bentley (tb), Graeme Bell (p), Norm Baker (bj g), Lou Silbereisen (sb bb), Johnny Sangster (d), Georgia Lee (v)
Accession number: 11172

It Had To Be You

Composer: Jones – Kahn
Date: 1949
Musicians: Georgia Lee (v)
Accession number: 37842

One And Two Blues

Band: Graeme Bell’s Jazz Band
Composer: George Brooks
Place: Melbourne
Date: July 7, 1949
Musicians: Roger Bell (t wb), Ade
Monsbourgh (t tb cl), Graeme Bell (p), Norm Baker (g bj), Lou Silbereisen (sb), Jack Banston (d), Don Roberts (cl ts), Georgia Lee (v)
Accession number: 29217

One of the most notable performances by Georgia Lee during this period was ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1948 at the Sydney Town Hall. This song was written by Jewish-American songwriter Abel Meeropol, who was inspired by the lynching of two African American men in the 1930s. American jazz singer Billie Holiday is often associated with this song after she performed it in New York’s Greenwich Village almost a decade prior to Lee’s performance. Georgia’s rendition of ‘Strange Fruit’ is possibly the first Australian performance of the song, and ultimately proved so controversial it was banned from radio.

Strange Fruit

Band: Jimmy Somerville’s Jazz Rebels
Composer: Abel Meeropol
Place: Sydney
Date: November 16, 1948
Musicians: Marsh Goodwin (t), Tony Barker (tb), Ron Mannix (cl), Wally Johnston (ts), Jimmy Somerville (p), Harry Shoebridge (g), Don Gordon (sb), Clive Whitcombe (d), Georgia Lee (v).
Accession number: 20945

In 1949 Georgia moved to Melbourne to perform with ensembles including Frank Johnson’s Fabulous Dixielanders and continued to work with Graeme Bell’s Jazz Band, recording music with the latter. In Melbourne she performed at establishments such as Claridge’s and Ciro’s nightclubs. In 1951 Georgia took part in the first ever Aboriginal Moomba celebration in Melbourne, performing alongside Indigenous opera singer Harold Blair.

Ciro’s Restaurant Melbourne, 1952. Reg Ford (p), Keith Morris (sb), Bill Hunter (d), Georgia Lee (v), Max Wildman (cl), Jack Gay (g)
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Ciro’s Restaurant Melbourne, 1952. Reg Ford (p), Keith Morris (b), Bill Hunter (d), Georgia Lee (v), Max Wildman (cl), Jack Gay (g).
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Posters And Programmes From The AJM Collection

Tribute to Scott Joplin
Date: 1975
Size: 320 mm x 210 mm
Accession number: 32935

Great Jazz Revival
Date: July 8, unknown year
Size: 325 mm x 125 mm
Accession number: 17676

Downbeat Just Jazz Concert
Date: May 28, 1954
Size: 510 mm x 280 mm
Accession number: 13004

The First Red Cross Jazz Concert
Date: March 31, 1949
Size: 210 mm x 145 mm
Accession number: 23550

Celebrity Jazz Concert
Date: April 27, 1949
Size: 280 mm x 220 mm
Accession number: 16086

Celebrity Jazz Concert
Page no.1
Date: April 27, 1949
Size: Unknown
Accession number: 27224

Celebrity Jazz Concert
Page no.2
Date: April 27, 1949
Size: Unknown
Accession number: 27224

Celebrity Jazz Concert
Page no.3
Date: April 27, 1949
Size: Unknown
Accession number: 27224

International Career

In 1953 Georgia Lee set her sights on an international career. Her first stop on the way to Europe was Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), where she stayed for five months to sing with Max Wildman’s Quintet. Georgia then left for London where she performed at venues including the Kilburn State Theatre, West End Astor Club, London’s Royal Festival Hall and George’s Hotel. She also performed with the famous Geraldo’s Orchestra for a year beginning January 1954. Her work with Geraldo included a weekly BBC broadcast and tour of the United Kingdom. She worked with multiple other artists and would also form her own ensemble called ‘The Dominoes’ during this time. In 1956 Georgia embarked on a tour to Scandinavia, before returning to London in 1957, and ultimately back to Australia later that year.

Copacabana Nightclub Colombo, 1953. Les Cooper (p), Max Wildman (cl), Georgia Lee (v), Billy Hunter (d), Keith Morris (sb), Jack Gay (g), unknown (cl)
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Return to Australia

St Louis Blues

Band: Georgia Lee and Jazz Band
Composer: W.C. Hardy
Place: Melbourne
Date: Unknown
Musicians: Georgia Lee and Jazz Band (personnel not listed)
Accession number: 25359

Georgia Lee’s career upon her return to Australia in 1957 was as fruitful as it was prior to her travels. Immediately following her return, Georgia performed with famous American jazz pianist and singer Nat King Cole on his third Australian tour. Then in 1962 Georgia became the first known Indigenous artist to record a full-length studio album and the first Australian singer captured in stereo with her work ‘Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under’.

This period in her career also saw Georgia embrace television and theatre. She partook in the variety show Bandstand and Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight. In 1961 Georgia had a leading role in the television movie Burst of Summer as one of three Indigenous actors. In 1976 she played the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wiz, an African American interpretation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In 1977 Georgia was crowned Melbourne’s Queen of Jazz.

Georgia Lee with Nat King Cole, 1957
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Georgia Lee crowned Melbourne’s Queen of Jazz
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Georgia Lee
Source: Australian Jazz Museum

Queen of Jazz

Georgia Lee retired to Cairns where she passed away at the age of 89 on the 21st of April, 2010. That same year, the album Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under was added to Sounds of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia’s Recorded Sound Registry. The Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) presented the radio documentary Miss Georgia Lee on Awaye, the Indigenous Art and Culture programme. QANTAS Airlines also included the recording of ‘Blues in the Night’ on their in-flight entertainment service.

Georgia Lee was a pioneer in her field as the first known Indigenous artist to record a full-length studio album and the first Australian singer captured in stereo for ‘Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under’. Georgia established herself as the Queen of Jazz, performing at famous venues in Australia and overseas with distinguished ensembles, on stage, television, and radio. Georgia Lee / Dulcie Pitt is celebrated by the Australian Jazz Museum as one of Australia’s principal jazz performers.

Album cover for ‘Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under’
Source: Australian Jazz Museum
Accession number: 24227

Back cover
Blue Moon

Band: The Bruce Clarke Quintones
Composer: Rodgers – Hart
Place: Melbourne
Date: C 1951
Musicians: Colin Bergerson (as), Ron Loughhead (p), Bruce Clarke (g), Trevor Torrens (sb), Charlie Blott (d), Georgia Lee (v)
Accession Number: 26911

I’m Confessin’

Band: Graeme Bell and Australian Jazz Band
Composer: Dougherty – Reynolds – Neiburg
Place: Melbourne
Date: 1949
Musicians: Roger Bell (t), Ade Monsbourgh (tb), Pixie Roberts (cl), Graeme Bell (p), Bud Baker (g), Lou Silbereisen (sb bb), Charlie Blott (d), Georgia Lee (v), Ade Monsbourgh (cl), Bud Baker (bj)
Accession number: 24304

Mean To Me

Composer: Turk – Ahlert
Copyright: Albert
Place: Melbourne
Date: 1949
Musicians: Roger Bell (t), Ade Monsbourgh (tb cl), Pixie Roberts (cl), Graeme Bell (p), Bud Baker (g bj), Lou Silbereisen (sb bb), Charlie Blott (d), Georgia Lee (v)
Accession number: 21582

St Louis Blues

Band: The Bruce Clarke Quintones
Composer: Handy
Place: Victoria
Date: 1951
Musicians: Ron Loughhead (p), Bruce Clarke (g), Trevor Torrens (sb), Charlie Blott (d), Colin Bergerson (cl as gfs), Georgia Lee (v)
Accession number: 26911

Tuxedo Junction

Band: Graeme Bell’s Jazz Band
Composer: Hawkins – Feyne – Dash – Johnson
Place: Melbourne
Date: July 7, 1949
Musicians: Roger Bell (t wb), Ade Monsbourgh (t tb cl), Graeme Bell (p), Norm Baker (g bj), Lou Silbereisen (sb), Jack Banston (d), Don Roberts (cl ts), Georgia Lee (v)
Accession number: 29217

List of abbreviations

alto saxophone (as), brass bass – tuba, sousaphone (bb), banjo (bj), clarinet (cl), drums (d), guitar (g), goofus (gfs), piano (p), string bass (sb), trumpet (t), trombone (tb), tenor saxophone (ts), washboard (wb), vocals (v)

Sources

ABC 2021, AWAYE! With Rudi Bremer: Introducing Miss Georgia Lee, <https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/introducing-miss-georgia-lee/3671168>

ABC 2021, The influence of Black American music on Australian Indigenous musicians, <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-21/indigenous-australian-music-influenced-by-black-american-music/10016962>

Culture Victoria 2016, Georgia Lee, <https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/creative-life/victorian-jazz-stories/georgia-lee/georgia-lee-2/>

Music Maker 1958, Georgia Lee, January 1958, Australia, p.9, 30, 38.

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Black and deadly at the NFSA, <https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/black-and-deadly-nfsa>

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, The passing of a great jazz singer,<https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/vale-georgia-lee>

Neuenfeldt, K 2014, ‘‘I wouldn’t change skins with anybody’: Dulcie Pitt/Georgia Lee, a pioneering Indigenous Australian jazz, blues and community singer’ in Jazz Research Journal, London, <https://kiosk2.pioneerwomen.com.au/uploads/images/DULCIE-PITT-GEORGIA-LEE.pdf>

Trove 2021, The Fruit of Georgia: Sunday Sun, November 21, 1948,<https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/228689682?searchTerm=Georgia%20Lee%20Strange%20fruit>

Vimeo.com Inc. 2021, Georgia Lee, <https://vimeo.com/114306580>

Women’s Museum of Australia 2021, Her Story: Georgia Lee, <https://wmoa.com.au/collection/herstory-archive/lee>

Acknowledgement

This exhibition was researched and written by Selina Wilmott, Ralph Powell and David Canterford, with audio files prepared by Ken Simpson-Bull and presentation by Robert Ayres.