I woke up in the middle of last night screaming, regretting the use of phrase "in her prime," in reference to jazz singer Lee Wiley on a Yahoo list to which I subscribe. In fact, many serious Wiley devotees consider late-period Wiley to be her greatest era. I also observed that those who listened to Wiley's recordings when they were initially issued, perhaps did not how drop-dead gorgeous she was. But, come to think of it, my buddy Wayne Knight does, indeed, have an extraordinary and gasp-inducing Wiley collection that contains dozens of studio glamour shots of Wiley in her pri. . . ., uh, I mean from the late 30s and early 40s.
Beyond all of this hairsplitting, however, the fact remains that this great singer is known by so relatively few fans of the art form. Wiley is clearly the greatest --- extra-categorically --- unknown American artist. (By comparison, she makes the likes of Edward Dahlberg seem like a household name.) Even amongst seemingly devoted followers of American Popular Song. A few years ago, on the aforementioned list, I wrote:
"Wiley had enough extra-musical mythic resonance to have guaranteed remembrance of her. I picture her as a kind of jazz-singing Dorothy Parker."
And yet, even though the Japanese have produced a prime time network TV special concerning Wiley (sans any moving footage, alas) she still "can't get arrested" in her native land. It's puzzling: Billie Holiday was probably not exactly a household name either in her pri. . . uh, well you know what I mean, but almost everyone---including the majority of the multitude of my culturally illiterate American brethren---at least knows the name.
Maybe because Wiley recorded for such small labels that apparently let her record exactly what she wanted to, which included the invention of the single-composer Songbook concept. For that reason alone, she deserves...oh, never mind. The subject of Lee Wiley's obscurity is a major Baroque worry of mine. Can't figger it out. If you can find a lone Wiley divider card in a single so-called "big box" store in all of this great land of ours, I'll eat it.