Roberta Lee

aka Roberta

Vocalist Roberta Lee, sometimes credited as simply “Roberta,” sang with three bands in the 1940s and managed a moderately successful solo career that took her into the mid-1950s. In addition to her time on the bandstand, Lee also made minor appearances in film, on Broadway, on television, and on the radio. She remained active into the early 1960s.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Lee graduated from Roosevelt High School and studied at a local dramatic school. She began her career as a singer on radio station WHIO, later moving to Washington, D.C., where she sang in the cocktail lounge of the Mayflower Hotel. Ending up in New York, Lee appeared on Broadway in early 1940 as part of Earl Carroll’s Vanities. She did professional modeling for national magazines before deciding to concentrate solely on singing. In late 1941, Lee became vocalist for Raymond Scott’s dance orchestra. Scott scrapped his band in January 1942 and formed a new radio orchestra which didn’t include Lee. Her big break finally came in late 1942 when she won an audition over 42 other girls to become Les Brown’s new vocalist. She remained with Brown until at least July 1943.

After leaving Brown, Lee worked solo on the West Coast. In January 1944, she opened in the musical revue Insults of 1944 at the Playtime theater in Los Angeles. She made two soundies early that year: Buy a Swell Time for a Dime with The Four Guardsmen and Bird in a Guilded Cage with The Four Ladykillers, the latter a remake of the 1900 hit song in which she played the titular role. In July, Lee sang at the Trocadero night club in Hollywood and appeared as guest vocalist on CBS radio’s Music Shop.

By November 1944, Lee had joined Henry Busse.[1] She remained with Busse’s band through 1945, making her first recordings with them. After Busse scrapped most of his orchestra and formed a new outfit in early 1946, she married Busse’s former manager, Wally Brady, in New York on April 8. Lee then returned to the West Coast, where that summer she appeared in revivals of the Broadway hit Meet the People and the musical revue The Little Show.

In October, Lee was back in New York with her own radio program on WNEW, and in December she began engagements at both Cafe Society locations. She signed with the Sonora label late that year.[2]

Lee remained at WNEW through at least May 1947. In early 1948, she was back on the West Coast, where she became a regular at the famous Charley Foy’s Supper Club for the next year-and-a-half. In late 1949, she recorded on the Tempo label, which was one of the early leaders in releasing 45rpm singles.

In 1950 and 1951, Lee made a number of appearances on television. She became a semi-regular on Frank Sinatra’s program, not only singing but taking part in comedy sketches. Lee continued performing in night clubs on both coasts and earned a small part as a performer in the RKO film The Blue Veil in which she also dubbed two songs for actress Joan Blondell. In 1952 and 1953, she appeared several times on Vaughn Monroe’s radio program, described as both a singer and comedienne.

Lee recorded on Decca from 1951 to 1954, where she often did crossover country tunes. In 1954, she signed with the “X” label, a division of RCA Victor geared towards handling the development of new artists. She recorded on “X” through 1955. In 1959, Walter Winchell announced that Lee had come out of a six-year retirement to join Ben Blue’s show, though what Blue show that was is unknown, as is what Lee retired from in 1953. In the fall of 1961, she sang in the new Roundup Room of the Ranch Club in Palm Springs, accompanied by Hal Rogers on the piano. She then vanished from the historical record.

Lee was 5’6" (168cm) and weighed 120 pounds (54.4 kg). She had brown eyes and dark brown hair and loved baseball, swimming and horseback riding.


  1. Busse was a former Paul Whiteman trumpeter, famous for the “Wang Wang Blues.” His band played highly-polished corn in a shuffle rhythm. ↩︎

  2. Sonora was a low-cost division of a large radio firm that sold 78s for 39 cents, well below the standard price. The label’s establishment caused a furor in the recording industry as no one believed they could make a profit at such a low cost and other distributors felt that Sonora was simply using the label to publicize their name. Sonora signed only lesser-known artists and rumors were that they paid their talent below the standard rate. ↩︎


  1. “Raymond Scott Settles Down.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1942: 23.
  2. “NSA Celebs.” Billboard 21 Nov. 1942: 35.
  3. “Famous Orchestra To Play On Ohio Stage Monday Night.” The Lima News [Lima, Ohio] 14 Dec. 1942: 9.
  4. “Ah, Roberta!” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1943: 2.
  5. “Roberta Lee, Onetime Model, Sings With Les Brown at Hop.” The Daily Collegian of the Pennsylvania State College [State College, Pennsylvania] 24 Feb. 1943: 1.
  6. “Bands Dug by the Beat.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1943: 16.
  7. “Whatcha Say, Doc, Heart Trouble?” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1943: 4.
  8. “Berg Backing New Musical.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1944: 6.
  9. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 22 Apr. 1944: 65.
  10. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 17 Jun. 1944: 68.
  11. “In Short.” Billboard 15 Jul. 1944: 29.
  12. “What's on the Air.” Wisconsin State Journal [Madison, Wisconsin] 18 Jul. 1944: 13.
  13. “Roberta Lee Joins Busse.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1944: 1.
  14. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 7 Jul. 1945: 74.
  15. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 6 Apr. 1946: 10.
  16. Winchell, Walter. “On Broadway.” Burlington Daily Times-News [Burlington, North Carolina] 21 Sep. 1946: 4.
  17. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 21 Oct. 1946: 5.
  18. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 2 Dec. 1946: 5.
  19. “Too Short for a Head.” Billboard 7 Dec. 1946: 10.
  20. “Roberta Lee Works Cafe Society Spots.” Down Beat 16 Dec. 1946: 1.
  21. “Night Club Reviews: Cafe Society, Uptown, New York.” Billboard 28 Dec. 1946: 36.
  22. “Music—As Written.” Billboard 11 Jan. 1947: 16.
  23. “Sonora Preems 39c Label.” Billboard 18 Jan. 1947: 13.
  24. “Night Club Reviews: Cafe Society, Uptown, New York.” Billboard 25 Jan. 1947: 37.
  25. “Sonora's 39c Label Starts Trade Furor.” Down Beat 12 Feb. 1947: 8.
  26. Advertisement. Billboard 31 May 1947: 30.
  27. “Night Club Reviews: Charley Foy's Supper Club, Sherman Oaks, Calif.” Billboard 6 Mar. 1948: 41.
  28. “On the Sunset Vine.” Down Beat 22 Sep. 1948: 9.
  29. “Night Club Reviews: Charley Foy's Supper Club, Sherman Oaks, Calif.” Billboard 1 Jan. 1949: 42.
  30. “Night Club Reviews: Charley Foy's Supper Club, Sherman Oaks, Calif.” Billboard 13 Aug. 1949: 42.
  31. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 3 Dec. 1949: 107.
  32. “Roberta Lee Is Singing Find.” Portland Sunday Telegram and Sunday Press Herald [Portland, Maine] 11 Dec. 1949: C-8.
  33. Advertisement. Billboard 24 Dec. 1949: 38.
  34. “RCA 45 Campaign Ups Others' Sales.” Down Beat 13 Jan. 1950: 21.
  35. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 23 Feb. 1951: 5.
  36. “Soundtrack Sittings.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1951: 9.
  37. “Record Reviews.” Down Beat 7 May 1952: 10.
  38. Doudna, Bill. “Spotlight.” Wisconsin State Journal [Madison, Wisconsin] 30 Apr. 1952: 2-12
  39. “Radio Program.” The Bridgeport Post [Bridgeport, Connecticut] 7 Jun. 1952: 3
  40. Duerk, Jim. “Looking and Listening.” Defiance Crescent News [Defiance, Ohio] 31 Jan. 1953: 7.
  41. “Popular Records.” Down Beat 25 Aug. 1954: 11.
  42. “A One-Year History of Label 'X.'” Down Beat 26 Jan. 1955: 3.
  43. “Record Reviews.” Down Beat 6 Apr. 1955: 10.
  44. Winchell, Walter. “Broadway and Elsewhere.” Logansport Pharos Tribune [Logansport, Indiana] 9 Feb. 1959: 4.
  45. “Roberta Lee.” Palm Springs Desert Sun 20 Sep. 1961: 3A.
  46. “What's Doing.” Palm Springs Desert Sun 13 Oct. 1961: 4A.