Leon Bibb, Baritone Broadway and Folk Singer

“Rocks and Gravel” Live

Leon Bibb was a Broadway music performer who turned to folk singing after having difficulty finding roles for African-American men on the stage. This switch occurred as the Civil Rights movement expanded the audience for folk music. He performed at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959.

“Sinner Man” in Luis Bunuel’s The Young One

Bibb (February 7, 1922-October 23, 2015) was a contemporary and friend of  Paul Robeson, who was godfather to his twin son and daughter. He performed frequently on Hootenanny and was host of a 1960s Someone New, a New York-based TV show that featured up-and-coming artists.

“Swing Low Sweet Chariot” with Son Eric Bibb

Bibb is the father of Eric Bibb, a noted acoustic guitarist now based in Finland. Father and son occasionally recorded and performed together.

Julie Wilson, Queen of the Cabaret Singers

Julie Wilson (October 21, 1924-April 5, 2015) was a Nebraska beauty queen who traded her tiara to pursue a career in music. She started in the chorus of “Earl Carroll’s Vanities” in Omaha in the early 1940s and by 1946 had worked her way into her first Broadway show,  Three to Make Ready. 

She won a singing contest on  a radio show hosted by Mickey Rooney. That earned her a spot at the Mocambo Club in LA, where Cole Porter saw her and recruited her for the London production of Kiss Me Kate.

The culmination of her Broadway career came when she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her 1989 performance in Legs Diamond.

She spent many years in New York in the nightclub circuit, booking gigs in all prestigious Manhattan rooms, including La Maisonette at the St. Regis, the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, the Metropolitan Room, Michael’s Pub and Cafe Carlyle.

Reviewing her tribute to Rodgers and Hart at Cafe Carlyle in 1984, New York Times music critic Stephen Holden praised her talent for “unearthing the dramatic essence of songs we think we know better than we really do.” She was famous for her interpretations of Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and Stephen Sondheim.

In a talking style, nearly devoid of melody, she would deliver the entire song, not just the familiar verses, to unlock its true meaning and mood. Dark undertones would emerge in songs previously thought to be sentimental.

Of her voice, Holden wrote: “Though her voice is not pretty, it is capable of a commanding beauty while remaining impressively precise in pitch, phrasing and dynamic shadings.”

A scene from the movie “This Could Be the Night” (1957, director Robert Wise) with Ms. Wilson as nightclub singer Ivy Corlane.