Notebook Cover

Nora Lee King

By Marv Goldberg

© 2023 by Marv Goldberg

Nora Lee King had two distinct recording careers. The first, in the early 1940s, was either as a soloist, or as part of a duo. The second, in the early to mid-1960s, was as a Soul singer. Although I'm not particularly into Soul music, her Soul recordings were much better than her 40s discs. However, this article will mostly cover her work from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Nora Lee King

Nora Lee King was born in Valley Creek, Alabama (a section of Selma), on August 9, 1909, to James King (a switchman for the Southern Railroad) and Annie Bell Ervin. In the 1910 census, when she was seven months old, she was enumerated as "Jennie". Infant mortality being high at the time, both the 1900 and 1910 censuses asked all women how many children they'd had up to April 1 of that year, and how many of them were still alive. Her mother's answer was two children, one of whom was still alive. Therefore, Nora either had had an older sibling who had died when very young, or a twin sister who had died (maybe even one named "Jennie"), possibly quite recently. Since they were living with James' aunt Henrietta, she might have been the one answering the questions and gotten the name wrong. Another explanation is that there was only one child and they changed her name. In the 1920 census, still in Valley Creek, the family consisted of James and Annie, and their four children: Nora Lee, Lucille, James W., and Elbert L. King.

Nora's father, when not working on the railroad, was a deacon in the Mount Ararat Baptist Church and her mother was a singer in the choir. The whole family, including aunts and uncles, were very musical, and from them, Nora learned music and liked to perform at school.

Nora wanted to attend Knoxville College in Tennessee, but her father couldn't afford to send her. However, her mother's sister, Susie (Mrs. Check Guy), lived in Detroit and let her stay there while she studied voice at the Detroit Conservatory Of Music.

Nora's name was on a list, printed in the June 23, 1929 Detroit Free Press, of silver medal recipients at the Conservatory. It was given to those students who'd achieved a 95-100% average.

The whole family, less Nora, was still in Valley Creek in the 1930 census. However, I can't find Nora. Although, she lived with Check and Susie Guy in Detroit, she's not enumerated with them.

However, when she married chauffeur Daniel Matthews on October 25, 1930 (he'd also come from Selma), the address she gave on the license was that of the Guys. One of the witnesses was Montreville Gantt (whom we'll run into again in a couple of paragraphs).

In June 1931, she (Nora Lee Matthews) graduated from the Detroit Conservatory Of Music with a Teachers' Certificate in voice. Nothing further until February 1936, when Nora Lee Matthews made the papers as the president of a local bridge club.

Finally, something to report about singing. The February 29, 1936 Detroit Tribune said:

Here are two young ladies whom we want you to give a big hand of applause. No doubt many of you heard them last Saturday night [February 22], as they did their number over Station CKLW [Windsor, Ontario, right next to Detroit] during the Amateur Hour. They are Miss Nora Lee Matthews, who beautifully sang, accompanied by the accomplished pianist, Miss Montreville Gantt. Now, at 8 o'clock Saturday night, Feb. 29, turn your radio dial to Station CKLW and listen for Montreville and Nora Lee, for they were invited to return as guest artists on the Amateur Hour, on that date.

Nora always seemed to be more comfortable in a duo. This is, as far as I can tell, the only time she was mentioned singing in public as Nora Lee Matthews.

On December 9, 1938, Nora Lee King copyrighted a song called "Lucky Me". However, this was a different woman, one who lived in Williamstown, Kentucky.

Nora relocated to New York in 1938. I don't know if this was the cause or the effect of her marriage breaking down (more on that later). She soon ran into Cliff Martinez, an entrepreneur who managed and booked several acts. (In the 1950s, he'd manage Viola Watkins, the Crows, the Sparks Of Rhythm, the Pretenders, the Mello-Tones, the Jive Bombers, and the Crickets). At this time, she took up the guitar in order to be able to accompany herself.

In November 1938, she, along with the Four Alphabets ("formerly known as the Norfolk Jazz Singers"), appeared in Greenwich Village (at an unnamed venue). The November 12 Chicago Defender said: "Also on the program was Nora Lee King, talented young torch singer...."

The December 31, 1938 Pittsburgh Courier had this:

Radio Station WEVD [New York] now has a weekly feature . . . the Harlem Swing Concert every Wednesday evening from 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., featuring Nora Lee King, the singing girl guitar player from Alabama with Oliver's Four Ka-Dappers, well known entertainers from the Exclusive Forest Inn, Shelter Island. Also on this program is the Four Alphabets, A, B, C, and D heard weekly every Wednesday evening over station WMCA at 6:30 p.m. These artists are under the management of Cliff Martinez.

This was in the February 4, 1939 Chicago Defender under the title "Dixie Girl Is Starred With Kyser":

Nora Lee King, singing girl guitarist from Alabama, and Courtland Carter, singing guitarist from Richmond, VA., were guest stars on Kay Kyser's College [sic; should be "Kollege"] Of Musical Knowledge, sponsored by a cigarette company on Wednesday, February 1, at 10 p.m. [Since they didn't name the cigarette company, I fail to see why it was important to say that.]

The singing-playing duet are currently appearing at the Chateau Moderne on East 50th Street.

Enter the Rhythm Dandies. By mid-November 1936, the 3 Rhythm Dandies were in New York and had a 15 minute show over WMCA at 3:30 PM; they were still there in early January 1937. By February 20, 1937, the Rhythm Dandies had a 15 minute show over WNEW at 8:15 PM; it was on for a month. Personnel weren't named at this time.

And then, they all got together. The March 25, 1939 Detroit Tribune talked about them on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour:

Nora Lee and her Three Rhythm Dandies closed the show on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour on Thursday, March 16, over station WABC and the Columbia Broadcasting system, singing the popular hit tune of the day, "Hold Tight". Nora Lee King, singing girl guitarist, is a former Detroit girl, niece of Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Guy, 6792 Scotten Avenue of this city. Miss King is a former student and graduate of the Detroit Conservatory Of Music, majoring in voice. She has been a resident of New York City for the past year, and has only studied the guitar for six months. Composing the Rhythm Dandies is Courtland Carter, tenor and guitarist; Joe Hilliard, baritone and pianist; and Joseph Allen, bass player.

This was expanded a bit in the March 25 New York Age:

Nora Lee King is a singing guitarist from Selma, Ala., daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James J. King of that city. The Rhythm Dandies are Courtland Carter, tenor and guitarist from Richmond, Va.; Joe Hilliard, baritone and pianist of Norfolk, Va.; and Joseph Allen, bass, of New York City.

Of course, it's a little more complicated than that. The only known photo of the Rhythm Dandies appeared in the June 10, 1939 Pittsburgh Courier. Here's the caption:

Rhythm Dandies Nora Lee King of Selma, Ala., recently discovered on the Major Bowes Hour with Nora Lee's Rhythm Dandies, now working and booked for the summer at Hartel's Grassy Point Hotel in Broad Channel, Long Island. The Nora Lee Rhythm Dandies have also been working as a relief trio at the Famous Door in New York City. Left to right: Nora Lee King, singer and guitarist; Ed Williams, singer and pianist; Courtland Carter, singer and guitarist. Since this picture was taken a bass has been added to the group [that would have been Joseph Allen].

This tells me that the photo was an old one (taken prior to the Bowes appearance) and that Ed Williams was the original pianist who'd been replaced by Joe Hilliard.

The December 23, 1939 Detroit Tribune said:

Nora Lee King and Her Dandies are appearing each Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, New York City during the intermission of the hockey games. A trumpet and alto sax have been added to the group. [They weren't further identified.]

Miss King, daughter [sic] of Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Guy of 6792 Scotten Avenue, Detroit, is a former student of the Detroit Conservatory Of Music.

There was never another thing written about the Rhythm Dandies, except for one mention that we'll get to in September 1943.

But Nora soldiered on. The February 10, 1940 New York Age said:

Nora Lee King, who has appeared on many local networks and worked in several night clubs, is now entertaining with the Five Budds, an instrumental quintet, at the Golden Palms on Broadway. They appeared in a benefit for the American Legion of the Bronx on January 31.

Whoever the 5 Budds were, their association with Nora was short-lived. Their only other mention had been years before, when they'd appeared at the Apollo Theater the week of July 16, 1937.

Duo time. The March 2, 1940 New York Age reported:

Jennie Dillard & Nora Jennie Dillard, singer and pianist who brought Maxine Sullivan to New York and worked with her as a team for nine months at the Onyx Club, is now sponsoring Nora Lee King and accompanying her in her radio programs over WINS Tuesdays and Fridays at 6:45 p.m. The team is known as Jennie and Nora and they will be glad to sing request numbers. Address them care Radio Station WINS.

They had that show for 10 weeks and were then given a new 15-week contract. This time, they were on at 6:45 on Tuesdays and 7:00 on Fridays. They also appeared at the Three Deuces Club on 52nd Street.

The 1940 census found Nora Lee King as a lodger with Lillian Fields, who, it seems, ran a Manhattan boarding house.

On April 24, Jennie and Nora appeared at the Daily Mirror's "Gold Mines In The Sky" radio show. WINS gave them another program on Wednesdays.

But by the July 4 weekend, Jennie was gone. The Brooklyn Eagle of July 5 said: "Nora Lee, singer, is the feature attraction this weekend in the Ocean Terrace Room of the Half Moon Hotel [in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn]".

Pat Flowers But then, it was "Pat & Nora" (with Ivelee "Pat" Flowers), who had a radio show broadcast from the Gas Wonderland exhibit at the New York World's Fair in mid-1940. They were supposed to have a sustaining (no-sponsor) radio show on NBC in September 1940, but I can't find any listings for them at all. However, the August 17 Billboard talked about a sustaining show called "Syncopated Clipper": "For the change of song pace, mixed voices of Pat and Nora give plenty zing to the rhythmic ditties."

The Pittsburgh Courier of the same date had an article titled "Pat, Nora Get N.B.C. Contract":

Pat and Nora, who are well known to radio fans here as a boy, a girl, and a piano, were this week signed by the NBC Artist Service for a series of radio programs to be aired over the NBC national hook-up. Students, both of the Detroit Conservatory Of Music, the duo has received much credit for its musical patter work.

In the past, the team has worked with success at Mammy's Chicken Shack, the Famous Door, Kelly's Stable, with a four week's engagement at the Senator hotel in Philly. They have been broadcasting every Sunday from the Gas Wonderland at the New York World's Fair over WINS.

Considering that Nora had been on her own on July 5, when could they have made all those appearances by August 17? They were definitely at the Rendezvous (at the Senator Hotel) by July 12. The Philadelphia Inquirer of that date said: "Two new faces shine under the spotlight this week at Irvin Wolf's Rendezvous. The newcomers are Pat and Nora, sepia swingsters straight from Harlem and parts farther downtown."

Alone again. The December 21, 1940 New York Age had this: "Vocalist Nora Lee King (WOVT, Th. Sat. 6:45) gives forth with some fine renditions and (mark our words) is headed for the networks." I assume there's a typo in there, since there doesn't seem to have been a station WOVT in New York.

Next came "Nora & Delle", with singer/pianist Verdelle Merridy about whom I can find out nothing other than that she was born Mamie Verdelle Williams, in Georgia, around 1912, and that she married Anderson Edward Merridy in 1931. In the 1940 census, she was a pianist in a private school. (And, the most interesting thing about her: in that census, a lodger in her home was Lucius "Doctor Sausage" Tyson.)

Decca 7858 Decca 7852 Finally, some recording. On June 10, 1941, "Nora and Delle and their Ham Trio" recorded four songs for Decca: "Keep A Knockin'", "Get Away From My Window", "Army Camp Blues", and "You Ain't Been Doin' Right". The Ham Trio consisted of James "Ham" Jackson - guitar; Sammy Price - piano; and William "Smitty" Smith - bass. (Roosevelt James "Ham" Jackson would join the Loumell Morgan Trio the following year and, in 1949, would play those great guitar riffs on Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry". Sammy Price, a house pianist for Decca, played on innumerable recordings over the years.) According to Nora, it was record producer and talent scout J. Mayo Williams who got her to record for Decca. All four songs were released in July.

The session was noted in a small article in the July 26, 1941 New York Age, which named the four songs and said that they'd just been released. At the time, it said, "Nora and Delle are appearing nightly at the Chateau Moderne on East 50th Street and are heard twice weekly over Radio Station WINS." They were, of course, managed by Cliff Martinez. Nora herself would still be at the Chateau Moderne in November.

I have to say that these recordings aren't very good; the voices don't blend and they don't keep together well. Considering that Nora's degree was in voice, and that she graduated with honors from the Conservatory, she's too strident for my taste and I'd never call her a great R&B singer.

A September 11, 1941 Decca session found Nora doing solo work. The four songs were "Love Me" (rejected), "Let Me Rock You Home", "Yump Da Da Da" (rejected), and "Why Don't You Do Right?". Presumably the same musicians were used (at least Price and Jackson were; since William "Smitty" Smith was on a subsequent session, it's reasonable to suspect he was there also).

Decca 7866 Of the two songs that weren't rejected outright, "Why Don't You Do Right" was released later that month. "Let Me Rock You Home" didn't seem to excite anyone and was shelved until the following year. The flip of "Why Don't You Do Right" was Georgia White's "Mail Plane Blues", which had been recorded back in March of the year. Here's what the November 8 Cleveland Call And Post had to say:

Nora Lee King, except when she goes flat, does right by WHY DON'T YOU DO RIGHT on Decca, but she can't top Lil Green version. Companion piece has Georgia White singing MAIL PLANE BLUES in her usual swell fashion.

Decca 7870 On October 8, Decca gathered the same crew and re-recorded "Love Me" and "Yump Da Da Da". Passing muster this time, they were released in October.

Nora Lee King Also in October (on the 15th), Nora had another session, this time backed up by Jimmy Smith & His Sepians : Jimmy Smith (clarinet, tenor sax); Sammy Price (piano); James "Ham" Jackson (guitar); William "Smitty" Smith (bass); Kenneth Roane (trumpet, ocarina); and an unknown drummer. The songs were "Boy! It's Solid Groovy" (with band vocals and Kenneth Roane's ocarina), "I Ain't Got Nobody To Love", "Sporty Joe" (more ocarina), and "Big Chump Blues".

Decca 8591 Nora's next Decca release was December's "Big Chump Blues", backed with "I Ain't Got Nobody To Love". The label credit was "Jimmy Smith & His Sepians, Vocal by Nora Lee King".

Here's a strange one. The 1942 Selma Alabama City Directory lists Nora's father, James W King, a laborer, living at 224 Race Street. No problem there. However, it also lists Nora L King, a music teacher, at the same address. I have no explanation for this.

The January 11, 1942 Des Moines Register liked "Big Chump Blues":

A gem buried in Decca's Sepia Series is Big Chump Blues by Jimmy Smith and his Sepians (8591). These blues are sung by Nora Lee King who knows just what to do with her huskily raw voice. The orchestra's background is solid.

I have to agree about the orchestration (especially the ocarina), but not Nora's voice, which really isn't earthy enough (and cracks in a couple of places).

The January 24 Cleveland Call And Post had this:

Nora Lee King, singing with Jimmy Smith's Decca bunch, has top-notch material on BIG CHUMP BLUES. There's a whistle used in the band [actually the ocarina]. On the coupling, "I AIN'T GOT NOBODY TO LOVE, everybody reverts to that fourth rate night club way of singing and playing a ballad.

There was another session on January 29, 1942, on which Nora was backed by Skeets Tolbert & His Orchestra: Campbell "Skeets" Tolbert (alto sax), Robert Hicks (trumpet), Otis Hicks (tenor sax), Herbert Goodwin (piano), John Drummond (bass), and Larry Hinton (drums). While there were a few sides recorded at the session, she's only on one of them: "Because I Love My Daddy So".

On February 9, she was part of a session on which she was backed by Pete Brown & His Band: Pete Brown (alto sax), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet), Sammy Price (piano), Charlie Drayton (bass), and Ray Nathan (drums). Again, she only recorded a single side: "The Cannon Ball" (about a train). The other three songs had vocals by Helen Humes.

Decca 7883 Then, Decca remembered it had "Let Me Rock You Home" in its vaults. For some reason, they released it as the flip of "I'm Not That Way Any More", by the Grooveneers. This is from my Grooveneers article:

In February 1942, Decca finally got around to issuing "I'm Not That Way Any More" [recorded in June 1941]. Since none of the other Grooveneers efforts qualified for release, Decca backed it with the risqué "Let Me Rock You Home", by Nora Lee King (accompanied by pianist Sammy Price), which had been recorded on September 11, 1941. Called "the singing guitar player from Alabama", Nora was neither the vocalist nor the pianist on the Grooveneers side. The record wasn't reviewed in the trades.

Decca 8618 Decca 8617 Decca issued "Because I Love My Daddy So" in March. The flip was "Fill-Up", by Skeets Tolbert. That same month, they released two of the songs from the October 1941 Jimmy Smith session: "Sporty Joe" and "Boy! It's Solid Groovy".

On March 27, Nora recorded "Deep Sea Diver", the only song done at the session (contiguous master numbers are by trumpeter Harlem Harley and Russ Morgan). This turned out to be her last Decca session; Sammy Price was still the pianist. On August 1, 1942, the first "Petrillo Ban" began (forbidding union musicians from recording). Decca finally settled with the union in September 1943, but by that time, they'd lost interest in Nora.

Decca 8625 Probably in April 1942, Decca issued "The Cannon Ball", backed with "(Can't Read, Can't Write) Gonna Buy Me A Telephone" by Helen Humes. These had both been recorded at the Pete Brown session in February. Here's why that's interesting:

Leonard Feather, who'd written the Humes tune and was at the session in some capacity (possibly as producer), later wrote that he had a regret about the session: "... that J. Mayo Williams, a Decca executive, insisted on bringing in another singer, Nora Lee King, to take over on the fourth tune, depriving Helen of a chance to complete a normal four tune date...." (This was from Feather's "The Jazz Years: Earwitness To An Era".) He didn't exactly say that he didn't like Nora's song, just that he would have been a lot happier if Helen Humes had done it.

Decca 7891 "Deep Sea Diver" (on which Nora's voice cracks a few times), came out in May 1942. The flip was "I'm Left With A Broken Heart", by Jewel Paige & Her Brownies, recorded in June 1941. The Chicago Defender of May 9 named the band members as: Jimmy Phipps (piano), Harlem Harley (trumpet), Doc Rhythm Johnson (guitar), and Shady Lee (bass). I'm sure you'll be interested to know that Harlem Harley would set a record for the longest held trumpet note (3:45) in 1943.

On May 3, Nora entertained at a show for servicemen at the Harlem Defense Center. Also performing were Orlando Robeson, Babe Wallace, and many others I never heard of.

The September 12, 1942 Afro-American said: "Nora Lee King, recording artist, guitarist, and blues singer, appeared recently with the Rhythm Dandies on the 63 Club program over station WMCA, New York." The date has to be correct, because the 63 Club was a new variety show, which had only started in May. (The first program featured the Delta Rhythm Boys.) Did the Rhythm Dandies reunite? There were no ads for them after 1939 and, in August 1940, Courtland Carter was with a group called the Rhythm Buddies (their only mention).

Maurine Smith No time for teary reunions. The December 5, 1942 Pittsburgh Courier said: "Nora Lee King has teamed with [pianist] Maurine Smith and together are sendin' the gang at the new Zebra Club on West 52nd Street."

On August 15, 1943, Nora was one of the performers at the Coffee Hour, held at the Harlem Defense Recreation Center, but Maurine wasn't mentioned this time.

looking for Nora Everybody remember Daniel Matthews? Nora's husband? C'mon, you remember him (although it's possible that Nora didn't at this point). Well, he got tired of being ignored and tried to sue for divorce. Only problem was, he didn't know where to find her. He put notices in the Detroit Tribune, starting November 27, 1943. (I've attached one for you to peruse, although it's a later version, which is more readable.) It was reprinted several times in 1943, 1944, and 1945 and constantly said that "... it cannot be ascertained in what State or Country the defendant now resides and her present whereabouts is [sic] unknown...." Can't serve 'em if you can't find 'em. However, it doesn't seem to me that Nora was taking any pains to remain hidden. Daniel just needed better skip tracers.

at Shelley's On December 12, Nora, along with Maurine Smith, was back at the Coffee Hour. The two appeared at Shelley's Bar And Cocktail Lounge in Woodside, Queens, New York in mid-January 1944. They also played Club 18 (owned by boxers Max Baer and Maxie Rosenbloom) on West 52nd Street, but I can't find any ads.

Nora and Maurine were at another Coffee Hour on April 2, 1944.

Asch 550 Nora made one more recording at this time, probably in May 1944. The song was "Until My Baby Comes Home" and on it, she was accompanied by piano wizard Mary Lou Williams. It was released on the Asch label, around September, as part of a 3-record album that also had songs by Josh White, Sonny Terry, and Champion Jack Dupree. This is, to me, the best of all Nora's 1940s recordings. Note that not a single one of Nora's 1940s releases was ever reviewed in the trades.

Larry Lucie Enter guitarist Lawrence "Larry" Lucie, another artist managed by Cliff Martinez. Nora later said that Cliff Martinez added him to the Nora and Maurine duo. I don't know what they were initially called, although there was one mention of the Cliff Martinez Swing Trio appearing at the Coffee Hour on May 14.

Larry Lucie in Mills Blue Rhythm Band Lawrence Lucie was born 18 December 1907 in Emporia, Virginia, and moved to New York in the 1930s. Larry played guitar with Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson, Lucky Millinder, Coleman Hawkins, and Louis Armstrong, whom he was with when he registered for the draft in October 1940. He died in New York on August 14, 2009.

However, Maurine Smith was gone by August 1944, to be replaced by pianist Arthur Suggs (who was mentioned when they, still unnamed, played the Coffee hour on August 20). This was in the Fall 1944 edition of Opportunity - Journal Of Negro Life:

One of the first of the young Negro singers to go into the field of television is Nora Lee King, blues singer and guitarist. Miss King is featured regularly over the CBS television programs. In addition, she is singing and playing at the Chateau Moderne, a dinner club on East 50th Street in New York City, where she is working with Lawrence Lucie, formerly with Fletcher Henderson, and Arthur E. Suggs, a pianist who has appeared regularly in New York night clubs. Miss King has also been contracted for several Blue Network [radio] shows for the fall. She has made several Decca recordings and the Asch Recording Studios is releasing a new album which will include a recording of several of her songs [well, one, at any rate] with Mary Lou Williams at the piano. Miss King is a graduate of Selma University in Alabama and has studied voice at the Detroit Conservatory Of Music. She began studying the guitar shortly after coming to New York about four years ago. [Note that Nora herself never said that she'd attended Selma University.]

Lawrence '88' Keyes Arthur Suggs was replaced by Lawrence "88" Keyes, who's mentioned in the Billboard 1944 Annual, which came out around September. It must have been a quick transition from Suggs to Keyes. (Nora named another pianist, Milt Robinson, but he's never written about, so I don't know when he was there.) Bassist Howard Gary was added at the same time as Keyes. The combination of Lucie, King, Keyes, and Gary was mentioned in The Record Changer, Volume 3, which said that, on October 13, 1944, the "Lucienaires" opened at the 51 Club on West 52nd Street.

(I've said in the past that I don't like documenting bands; their membership changes often and few photos identify the members.)

The Billboard 1944 Annual (published around September of that year) had little artist bios. This is what they printed about Nora:

Nora Lee King, singing guitarist with Lawrence Lucie's Rhythm quartet, is a featured CBS artist for radio and television, and has recorded for Decca and Asch. With the quartet, she has played Kelley's Stables [sic; should be "Kelly's Stable"], Chateau Moderne, and The Place in New York, as well as Twin Keys in Newark. Their [sic] Decca recordings include Why Don't You Do Right?, Love Me, and Deep Sea Diver. Singing with Mary Lou Williams, Miss King has recorded for Asch Until My Baby Comes Home, and with the quartet for the same waxery, This Thing Called Love. She is under the management of Cliff Martinez.

with Lucie Note that I can't find any release of "This Thing Called Love" by Nora or Lucie. If it was recorded for Asch, it wasn't released. A Cliff Martinez ad for Nora in the same Billboard edition names the members as Nora, Lawrence Lucie, Lawrence Keyes, and Howard Geary [sic; should be "Gary"]. This would have been the lineup over the summer of 1944.

Not a single word about any of them appearing anywhere in all of 1945 or 1946. However, Daniel Matthews finally caught up with Nora and they were divorced on March 13, 1946. On August 1, Nora had two songs copyrighted: "Pol-ly ol-ly oo-dle-de" and "I Used To Be A Good Girl".

Earres Prince Lucienaires The next pianist for the Lucienaires was Earres Prince, who appears in a photo with Larry and Nora. Prince had been Cab Calloway's first pianist from 1929-31 (and was on the original recording of "Minnie The Moocher"). In early 1946, he'd been part of Harry Dial's Orchestra.

at the Oasis On June 23, 1947, the Lucienaires opened at the Tropical Bar of the Oasis in the Mt. Lebanon suburb of Pittsburgh. Only Larry's name was mentioned in the write-up, but the ad called them "3 Fellows and a girl . . . and Their Music Sweet or Hot - Direct from Club 51, New York City." [Should be "the 51 Club"] When the engagement ended, they were held over. Presumably the fourth member was now bassist Leo Nurse.

at the Hollywood Show Bar at the Hollywood Show Bar The next mention was the Hollywood Show Bar, also in downtown Pittsburgh, on November 19. The ad said "Direct From 3 Deuces, New York". (While I'm always leery of the term "direct from", which could indicate that an act had played there back when dinosaurs roamed, this could be where they'd been for the past few months.)

In October 1948, Earres Prince was off appearing by himself. His replacement was pianist Claude Garvey, who was named in a November 1948 Lucienaires ad.

at the Coronet at the Rainbow Inn I can't find the exact date, but in 1948, Nora and Larry were married in New Jersey. They'd remain together until her death. It's possible that the marriage took place while the Lucienaires were appearing at the Rainbow Inn (New Brunswick) in early October 1948 or when they were at the Coronet (Palisades Park) on November 24.

at the Hotel Bingham Lucienaires When the Lucienaires started at the Hotel Bingham's Club Revele (Binghamton, New York) on March 1, 1949, the ad was accompanied by a photo showing Larry Lucie, Nora Lee King, Claude Garvey at the piano, and a bassist who's possibly Leo Nurse. The part with Larry and Nora, although it looks like an integral part of the picture, had been part of the earlier photo with Earres Prince. Note that Nora is pictured playing cocktail drums with wire brushes. (Cocktail drums are a small drum set played while standing.)

at the Glass Bar After that, the group was at the Glass Bar in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania for the week of April 14, 1949.

On October 2, they opened for three weeks in Steubenville, Ohio, but I don't know the venue. They'd just done eight days in Baltimore, but, again, I don't know where.

Nora's last known recording for the next dozen years took place in late 1949. "Hold My Baby Tight" was copyright by Nora (words) and Larry (music) on October 30 and recorded for the Solo label (part of Asch). The flip, "Riff, Romp & Stomp", sounds like it should be an instrumental, but the copyright shows Nora as having written the words. I haven't seen the label, but the December 31 Billboard only named Larry Lucie in the record's review:

Riff, Romp & Stomp (70): Rhythm novelty draws a swinging small group ride.

Hold My Baby Tight (68): Cleanly executed fast boogie blues with a good beat and spirit but trite lyric.

at Moonlight Gardens December 12 found them at the Moonlight Gardens Night Club in Newark, Ohio.

at Moonlight Gardens The March 13, 1950 ad for the Lucienaires at Moonlight Gardens said "This Will Be Their Last Unit To Play at Moonlight Gardens". I think what they're trying to say is that the engagement is coming to a close, not that the nightclub is. They probably meant "their last night".

Lucienaires Lucienaires Lucienaires In September 1950, the Lucienaires were at the Streamliner in Columbus, Ohio. A photo in the September 30 Ohio State News had this caption: "Led by the guitar and clarinet of Larry Lucie, the group includes vocalist accordionist and conga drummer Nora Lee King, bassist Alfred "Al" Matthews [who'd been with Pete Brown and Billy Eckstine] and pianist Claude Garvey. In addition to their instrumental numbers, the Lucienaires have an interesting repertoire of ensemble and solo vocals." The accompanying write-up had this:

New attraction at Columbus' Streamliner is an outfit called the Lucienaires.

Paced by Larry Lucie on guitar and clarinet, the combo includes Nora Lee King who sings plays accordion, and cocktail drums, Al Matthews who plucks the big fiddle and sings along with some scintillating piano by Claude Garvey. [That really needs a few more commas.]

All in all the Lucienaires are quite a package. Were one to look closely flaws would be found but there are flaws in most things and the faults of this group are due mainly to ambition. They do try one or two heavy production numbers without the supporting instrumentation. However their ensemble choral effects and consistently good musicianship make them well worth the hearing . . . make a date to hear the Lucienaires. [About those commas...]

at Moonlight Gardens On October 16, they returned to the Moonlight Gardens. November 13 found them at Ibach's (Wilmington, Delaware) for a week.

at Crystal Lounge They aren't heard from again for a year. On September 14, 1951, they opened at the Crystal Lounge in Dayton, Ohio. The same four names are in the ad, which claims that they'd spent two years in Greenwich Village. The venue was unnamed and I don't know when this could have been (although engagement durations are usually wildly exaggerated in ads).

Nora and Larry Lucie Nora and Larry Lucie That was the last mention of the Lucienaires, who probably lasted until the end of the year. From 1952 through 1957, there's not a single mention of Nora or Larry, although they supposedly continued to appear together.

Nora and Larry made the news in 1958, but only because they were visiting his parents in Huntsville, Alabama. They were mentioned again after they'd left and returned to Brooklyn. (Some papers were desperate for "news" items.)

Reginald Bean, Jr Nora later claimed that, in 1958, they added Reginald Bean, Jr., a conga drummer, and called themselves the "Calypso Three". (Reginald, Sr. was the piano accompanist to Ethel Waters from at least 1954 through 1958, and then went with Geoffrey Holder.) However, I can't find any appearances Bean made with Lucie and Nora. In June and July 1957, an outfit called the "Calypso Three" appeared at the Blue Angel in Cincinnati, but there was neither a photo nor anything naming the members. Ads claimed they were from Nassau, Bahamas.

In 1959, Larry Lucie joined the orchestra of Louis Bellson (Pearl Bailey's husband and bandleader). That fall, Lucie switched to Cozy Cole's Orchestra, the house band at the Metropole Cafe in Manhattan.

All was quiet in 1960, but in 1961, as Lucie turned to producing, Nora began to learn the Fender bass. That year, the "Larry Lucie Combo" recorded a couple of sides for the Amber label: "After Hours" and "Zambezi". Since Nora wrote "Zambezi", presumably she's on it as an instrumentalist.

As Lenore Kinsey Nora Lee King And now, it's time to pretty much leave Nora Lee King. This is for two reasons: first, as I said before, she turned to Soul music and I'm not particularly into that; second, she pretty much leaves us. In the 1960s, she performed and recorded under a whole slew of pseudonyms. These included Lenore Kinsey, Susan King, Lola King, Lenore King, and Susan (Lenore) King. I have no idea why she kept bouncing around, or even if the list is exhaustive. You'll find most of her later recordings in the discography. Note that Lucie owned Toy Records on which many of the songs were issued.

In case there's any doubt, on October 21, 1965, she copyrighted a song called "Tell Her (Or Let Me Go)" as "Lenore King, pseud. of Nora Lee Lucie". Then, on October 25, 1977, she copyrighted "Wake Up! Wake Up!" as "Susan (Lenore) King, pseud. of Nora Lee Lucie."

In 1968, Nora enrolled in New York City's Hunter College to get a Bachelor's degree in music and a Master's degree in ethnomusicology.

We don't tend to think of performers away from music, but here's something I found interesting. It's from the June 25, 1982 New York Daily News:

Until he was reached in his Bedford-Stuyvesant [a Brooklyn neighborhood] home at 5:20 a.m. yesterday, the Coast Guard believed that Larry Lucie was a dead man - drowned in Jamaica Bay.

And until [the] Coast Guard told Lucie that it had his pleasure boat in its possession at the Marine Park Bridge station, he was sleeping easy, believing that it was securely docked at the Kings Plaza Marina.

Spotted at 11:30 a.m. yesterday on Jamaica Bay, the 19-foot white open runabout - identified by New York boat license 5126PM was reportedly "running in circles at high speed with no lights and no passengers."

It was a Kings Plaza Marina service manager sailing to shore, who first spotted Lucie's boat as it sped in lonely circles in the Mill Basin area off the Belt Parkway. He reported it to the Coast Guard at 1:48 a.m., Petty Officer Matt Wassserman said.

Shortly after 2 a.m., the Coast Guard found Lucie's boat had run aground a half mile from the marina.

The owner was identified quickly through official records and the Coast Guard began sweeping the waters for Lucie, Wasserman said.

Finally, at 5:20 a.m., Lucie was reached by phone at his residence on Lewis Ave. and told the Coast Guard he would retrieve his boat later in the day.

I'm sure there's a song idea in there somewhere.

In 1982, Larry Lucie began teaching guitar at Manhattan Community College; he'd do this for over 20 years. He and Nora also had a jazz show on a Manhattan cable TV station. In 1991, Nora's "The Cannon Ball" was used on the soundtrack of the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes".

Nora Lee King Lucie passed away, in Manhattan, on November 28, 1995. Husband Larry Lucie kept on performing until a few years before his death, at 101, on August 14, 2009. His final performance was at Arturo's, in the West Village, in 2005.

What can I say? I don't like the way Nora Lee King sings the music I like and I like the way she sings the music I have little interest in. Still, she had an interesting career.

7852 Army Camp Blues / Get Away From My Window - 7/41
7858 Keep A Knockin' (But You Can't Come In) / You Ain't Been Doin' Right - 7/41
            Above two as Nora & Delle & Their Ham Trio
7866 Why Don't You Do Right / [Mail Plane Blues - Georgia White] - 9/41
7870 Love Me / Yump Da Da Da - 10/41
            Above two as Nora Lee King
8591 Big Chump Blues / I Ain't Got Nobody To Love - 12/41
            Above as Jimmy Smith & His Sepians, Vocal by Nora Lee King
7883 Let Me Rock You Home / [I'm Not That Way Any More - Grooveneers] - 2/42
            Above as Nora Lee King
8617 Because I Love My Daddy So / [Fill-Up - Skeets Tolbert] - 3/42
            Above by Nora Lee King, with Skeets Tolbert & His Orchestra
8618 Sporty Joe / Boy! It's Solid Groovy - 3/42
            Above by Nora Lee King, with Jimmy Smith & His Sepians
8625 The Cannon Ball / [(Can't Read, Can't Write) Gonna Buy Me A Telephone - voc by Helen Humes] - ca. 4/42
            Above by Pete Brown & His Band, Vocal By Nora Lee King
7891 Deep Sea Diver / [I'm Left With A Broken Heart - Jewel Paige & Her Brownies] - 5/42
            Above as Nora Lee King

550 - Blues (a 3-record album) - ca. 9/44
      550-1 T.B. Blues - Josh White
                 Careless Love - Josh White
      550-2 Until My Baby Comes Home - Mary Lou Williams & Nora Lee King
                 Too Evil To Cry - Champion Jack Dupree
      550-3 Lonesome Train - Sonny Terry
                 Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way - Woody Guthrie & Cisco Houston

SOLO (part of Asch)
10-017 Hold My Baby Tight / Riff, Romp & Stomp - 12/49
            Not sure of the label credit - only Lucie's name appears in the Billboard review of the disc


AMBER (Larry Lucie Combo)
202 After Hours / Zambezi - 61
            Since she wrote "Zambezi", presumably she's on it as an instrumentalist

BACK-HOME (Lenore Kinsey)
101 The Story Of Creation / Ask And It Shall Be Given - 2/62
102 Who Am I Without Your Love / I Wanna Love, Love, Love - 62

TOY (Susan King)
104 Building A Wall Around My Heart / Where Will I Find Him - 62
106 Building A Wall Around My Heart / Where Will I Find Him - 62
111 I Got a Good Thing / Time Is Awastin' [sic] - 63

SOUND OF MEMPHIS INC. (Lola King; reissue of Toy 111)
2942 I Got a Good Thing / Time Is Awastin' [sic] - ca 63

HER MAJESTY (Lenore King and Tommy Anderson)
101 The Beatles Is Back ("Yea, Yea, Yea") / [Ye Old Lion And His Feudin Cousins - Tommy Anderson] - 64
            She sings and talks; he talks - both are break-in records, but hers is really incomprehensible gibberish

TURNTABLE (Susan King)
711 Drum Rhythm / You Got Me In A Fix - 65

MIDTOWN (Susan King)
3501 (Oh! Oh! Oh!) What A love This Is / Tell Her (Or Let Me Go) - 12/65

TOY (label owned by Larry Lucie)
1001 Cool And Warm Guitar (Larry Lucie and "Susan (Lenore) King", bass) - 75 (instrumentals)
       Moon River
       Nature boy
       You Belong To My Heart
       Ebb Tide
       Jazz Boy
       When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain
       Return To Me
       Spanish Harlem
       Canadian Sunset

1003 Sophisticated Lady After Sundown (Larry Lucie and "Susan (Lenore) King", bass) - 77 (instrumentals)
       Satin Doll
       Things Ain't What They Used To Be
       Sophisticated Lady
       Willow Weep For Me
       Jazz Junior
       Down At Rubin's
       After The Sun Goes Down
       A Swingin' Cause
       Crazy Winnie

1005 This Is It - (Larry Lucie and "Susan (Lenore) King", bass) - 78 (instrumentals)
       This Is It
       King Porter Stomp
       Winin' Boy Blues
       The Deacon
       Blue Gut Shuffle
       Chickashaw Junction
       Sweet Potato

1006 Mixed Emotions (Larry Lucie and "Susan (Lenore) King", bass) - 79
       Work Song (instrumental)
       Take The 'A' Train (instrumental)
       In A Sentimental Mood (instrumental)
       Don't Get Around Much Anymore (instrumental)
       Flying Home For Christmas (instrumental)
       One More Dance (instrumental)
       Misty (instrumental)
       Dreams Come True (instrumental)
       Morning (vocal by "Susan King")
       Move On Down The Line (vocal by "Susan King")

111 Move On Down The Line / Morning - 79 (from the Toy 1006 LP)
            Above as "Susan King"; NOTE: the 111 number had also been used for a 1963 Toy release

1007 It Was Good ... It Is Good (Larry Lucie and Susan Lenore King, bass) - 82
       Funky Goodie (instrumental)
       Smokin' Joker (instrumental)
       Movin' And Groovin' (instrumental)
       Butter From The Duck (instrumental)
       Building A Wall Around My Heart (vocal by "Susan Lenore King")
       Little Sally Walker (vocal by "Susan Lenore King")
       I Got A Good Thing (vocal by "Susan Lenore King")
       Time Is Awastin' (vocal by "Susan Lenore King")
       Morning (vocal by "Susan Lenore King")
       Move On Down The Line (vocal by "Susan Lenore King")

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