07/23/08

Benefit Concert for Barbara Lea This Friday

The photo section on singer Barbara Lea’s Web site is a digital glimpse into a musician’s past—the page displays a lone headshot of a young Lea with a wry smile, and a decades-old snapshot of the vocalist facing four young men. Their expression?

Captivated.

It is that spark that earned Lea the nickname of “The High Priestess of Popular Song” by her friends and contemporaries.

Now, friends and fans of Lea, age 79, have the opportunity to give back to the singer, with a benefit concert being held for the songstress this week. The benefit is to raise money for Lea as she faces what organizers call “a serious life challenge.”

“It’s a tribute to her, but most all and above all it is a benefit for her in her time of great need,” said event organizer Karen Oberlin. “I learned so much from her; so many singers and people have. It was the least I could do, and I know so many others feel the same way.”

The benefit will be held this Friday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in the West Bank Cafe in New York City.

Lea’s caretaker has been struggling to meet all of Lea’s needs in recent years, Oberlin said. The benefit is for people to help out in any way they can.

For Oberlin, Lea was a mentor.

“No one could whistle like Barbara Lea, and she had a wonderful sense of humor,” she said. “Just a twinkle in her eye.”

Oberlin described Lea as a premier interpreter of classic American songs.

“Musicians loved to work with her,” she said. “She wasn’t a typical singer, she was a musician’s singer.”

Lea’s career took her from coast to coast, performing American classic songs and recording numerous albums on the Audiophile label. At several points in her career, Lea performed in JVC, Kool and Newport Jazz Festivals.

Lea’s repertoire included works by Rodgers and Hart, Arthur Schwartz, Cy Coleman, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael and Ira and George Gershwin, as well as cabaret tunes by the likes of Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer and Yip Harburg.

Lea’s career eventually took her to theatre performance on off-Broadway, and she also taught modern drama at Hofstra University and speech at the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

This Friday’s benefit will be a tribute to Lea, Oberlin says, an opportunity to paint as much of the picture as they can of who she is as a performer and a person.

Musicians who will be speaking and performing at the event include Bob Dorough, Steve Ross, Daryl Sherman, Ronny Whyte, the Loren Schoenberg Big Band, Keith Ingham, Sue Matsuki, Karen Oberlin, Melissa Hamilton and Annie Dinerman.

“People will perform songs that remind them of her, songs that she did, songs they performed that she loved of theirs—all of the music will relate back to her in some way,” Oberlin said. “It’s a great roster of performers, who’ve come very happily and quickly to help her in her time of need.”

Ticket information for Friday’s benefit is available at BarbaraLea.com, as is information on how to donate for those who are unable to attend.

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