While compiling Barbara Lea's discography, it struck me as inconceivable that less than two years ago not only had I never heard her sing, I had never even heard of her! But an internet mailing list called Songbirds changed that: in addition to learning about this consummate artist, I've had the immense pleasure of hearing her sing live many times, met and gotten to know her and am honored to count her among my treasured friends. As an interpreter of songs, from the Great American Songbook in particular, Barbara has no rival, turning out one inspired performance after another. A songwriter's best friend, she reads a song with rare insight and great respect for the lyric and melody as written. So how is it that I had never heard of her? I was stuck in a musical rut, a time warp that was instantly and irrevocably dashed with my initiation to Songbirds -- sincere thanks to the members of that cherished group, especially the one who encouraged me to join. How my life changed!
Faced with the daunting task of getting up to speed on "our" singers before the first Convergence in 2000, I bought an armload of CDs, vowing at the very least to get to know the names and voices of all the performers, one of whom was Ms. Lea. A week before the event, I acquired my first Lea recording, one I hold dear as my introduction to the music of this world class singer. The CD was LEA IN LOVE, and while I admit to not being totally bowled over by her less is more approach on first listening, I was smitten with two songs that remain among my favorite Lea tracks: a playful "We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together" and her stunning "Autumn Leaves" in French. Reluctantly, I attended that first Convergence alone, but how fortuitous that Songbirder and Barbara Lea friend/fan, Jeff Austin, was the first person I met; he approached me, introduced himself and promptly seated me next to Barbara. I spent a good deal of time talking with Barbara that weekend and was blown away by her luminous presence and soulful performance at the first concert, especially a reinvented "Begin The Beguine" which I heard with new ears. I didn't see her for quite some time after that weekend in New York but later wrote her for clarification about something she posted on Songbirds, certain she wouldn't remember me. She did remember and a spirited correspondence ensued. It is with great pride that I can finally say that I've heard and own nearly all of Barbara Lea's recorded material, which brings me back to the discography.
Last summer, Steve Albin emailed me about the possibility of working together again on a discography (using his BRIAN program) and maybe a website, asking if there was a singer I'd consider doing this for. Barbara Lea leapt to mind immediately, but I had few of her recordings and no idea if she already had a webpage; in short, I knew relatively little about her! When I suggested Barbara, I was delighted to find that Steve felt as I did: that Barbara Lea is one of our underrated treasures and needed and deserved a complete discography and a website of her own. After several subtle email inquiries from me, Barbara braved asking if I was proposing what she hoped I was, that we might be interested in doing her site and discography. And so began my crash course on Barbara Lea! I bought CDs and more CDs and Barbara generously helped with ones I didn't have.
Steve has been a wonder, patiently awaiting new data for the discography and designs for the site, working tirelessly behind the scenes to put all of this information together. The discography has been compiled using BRIAN, a database application specifically developed by Steve for this purpose. Find out more about this program from Steve or go to his website. We want to thank Barbara Lea for all her help, as well as Keizo Takada, for generously sharing valuable information about early recordings and foreign reissues I've yet to acquire, and special thanks to Dick Sudhalter, Loren Schoenberg, Ed Berger and Fred Stack for filling in some missing data. Compiling a discography requires a lot of time, patience and attention to detail; we've tried to be as accurate and thorough as possible, but there are sure to be additions, corrections and further information on reissues unknown to us, so please feel free to email us.
Barbara Lea is a generous performer; listen to the strength in her voice, the persuasion, the immediacy and intimacy. She doesn't hold back; she gives you everything, serving up exquisite songs as the songwriters intended. She'd give you the proverbial shirt off her back if you needed it. Barbara, my dear, we salute your magnificent recording history -- how rich we are for the learning experience, how proud of your career! And I, for one, have loved every minute of the discovery...