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George E. Lee Orchestra MMF Photo Collection, #124 Down Home Syncopated Blues Meritt Stomp George E. Lee & His Novelty Singing Orchestra

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George E. Lee Band, 1924-28

Like the Moten band, the George E. Lee Singing Novelty Orchestra steadily grew in number and sophistication throughout the 1920s. George and Julia's showmanship and strong vocals made the band a hit with the audiences at Paseo Hall and other leading venues in the 18th and Vine area. In August 1923, the six-piece Lee band recorded for the OKeh label, becoming the first African American band from Kansas City to record. Unfortunately, Okeh judged the result of the session unsatisfactory and declined to release the two selections, "Just Wait Until I'm Gone" and "Waco Blues." Having missed an opportunity for national exposure, the Lee band continued playing the dance halls and cabarets in the 18th and Vine community.

In early 1927, the Lee band recorded for Meritt records, a Kansas City based label owned by Winston Holmes. A colorful self-promoter, Holmes owned the Winston Holmes Music Company, located on the northwest corner of 18th and Highland. Holmes launched the Meritt label after producing the Lee and Moten sessions for Okeh. The two selections recorded by Meritt, Down Home Syncopated Blues and Merrit Stomp, capture the rough, stomp-down style of the Lee band.

In early summer 1927, the Lee band began a one year engagement at Spring Lake Park in Oklahoma City. Lee enlarged the band to nine pieces for the engagement. The newly expanded band featured Robert Russell and Sam Utterback trumpets, Herman Walder and Clarence Taylor reeds, Charles Rousseau banjo, Julia Lee piano, Clinton Weaver sousaphone, and William D. Wood drums. Returning to Kansas City in May 1928, Lee extended his influence beyond the 18th and Vine area and established a circuit of white dance halls, while maintaining his base in the 18th and Vine area. During the next few years, Lee toured the southwestern territories picking up new band members and refining the band along the way.

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