Today, the world lost a tremendous blues singer and a fine lady.
Bonnie Lee was a great Blues singer. The first time I heard her was on the radio in Chicago in the early 1980's. There was a live concert broadcast from Biddy Mulligan's on WNIB. The host was long time Chicago radio personality, Big Bill Collins. Performing that evening were the Kinsey Brother, Sugar Blue, Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues/JW Williams & The Chitown Hustlers and Bonnie Lee. She was a powerhouse singer.
I didn't have to opportunity to see her perform until the mid 1990's when she accompanied Willie Kent to the Bay Area during the opening months of Blues on B in San Mateo. I went to several of those shows. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to her a few times. She was a really sweet lady with a tremendous voice that could be powerful and then soft and sensitive.
In 1997, she performed at the San Francisco Blues Festival. It was sort of a disappointment to me. She was billed as part of a package and performed only a couple of songs. When she departed the stage, she left the audience wanting more. It seemed crazy to fly her to California for a couple of songs, but it was great to see her perform.
One of the last times that I saw her perform was at a tribute to Muddy Waters at the Taste of Westmont in 1999. She was on the bill with several fabulous female Blues singers that were backed by Willie Kent's fine band. Bonnie Lee sounded great. She really delivered the goods.
Whenever I went back to Chicago, I always made sure to catch a Willie Kent show and it was a really nice bonus to see Bonnie Lee perform. She also has an excellent CD out on the Wolf label called "Queen of the Chicago Blues" and she made appearances on several other CD's. I was just listening to her Delmark CD last weekend and thought that she was really under-recorded and under-recognized. "Sweetheart of the Blues" is a fabulous CD.
I'm really going to miss seeing her. She really was the Sweetheart of the Blues!