Ranee Lee has endured some tough gigs in her time yet nothing like the one last night at L’Astral.
Earlier in the day – Lee’s husband Richard Ring ( Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Ed Thigpen, Ray Brown, Michel LeGrand, Oliver Jones ) passed away following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Ring was not only her husband but her longtime guitar player and mentor. Emotions were high yet as they say; the show must go on. Richard would have wanted it that way …
Ranee ( a member of the Order of Canada, a Juno Award winner, an actress and teacher) took the stage with true professionalism. From the very start – a song was in her heart and the love for the material on her sequined sleeves.
The Dark Divas was the theme as Ranee both educated and displayed the talents of all the legendary African-American women who inspired Ranee as a young woman. Billy, Sarah, Dinah, Pearl and Ella to name a few. A who is who of American female musical history portrayed through a concept written and conceived by Ranee herself.
Andre Menard ( the co-founder of the Montreal Jazz Festival) introduced Lee and gave the audience a heads up on the morning’s events (perhaps for when Lee was not able to carry out a great performance or maybe not continue at all). If that was the case – Ranee disappointed any of those in attendance who thought the grief would be too much. In Ranee’s mind and soul, seated right beside her, was her husband.
Theatrically, joyfully and triumphantly – Lee hypnotized the crowd with vocal depth, power and control. Lee was no longer a Grandmother. She was that young woman from Brooklyn with stars in her eyes. The young woman raised by a musical single Mom who taught Ranee piano under the stairs. The young woman who Richard Ring believed in so much.
As the night weaved through classic after classic. As the night steered through the magical musicianship of Ranee’s band, everyone kept waiting for the moment or the song which would cause Lee to break. That one memory shared between two people which would evoke emotions too strong to stop the sadness from coming. It never came in the form of an outburst. Inside – who knows yet Lee did not show she was struggling. Joy and her obvious love for both the tunes and her late husband was all that came across. In the end the crowd stood. The punters well aware of what they saw from an artist so pure and so strong.
On such a sad day – music and the togetherness brought on by the Dark Divas’ songbook turned a ‘normal’ performance into brilliance. A not-so-normal day into a historical Jazz Festival moment.
With Richard Ring high above on guitar …