Music and food have been running through Miss Sophie Lee’s veins since childhood, and what better place to flourish in the cultures of those entities than New Orleans?
Lee was raised by a single mother in Chicago. When her mother moved to Mississippi, Lee followed to help take care of her.
“From Tupelo, Miss., I would come to New Orleans quite a bit,” Lee recalled. “My father and I were estranged for most of my life. When we got back in touch, I found out that he was from the Louisiana-Mississippi area. I was being drawn here by my roots and things beyond my control.”
Knowing she wanted to be fully immersed in music and food, Lee relocated to New Orleans to build a life around the things she loved. Working artists often supplement their income by waiting tables and bartending, and Lee was no exception.
“I was waitressing at a restaurant on Frenchman Street,” Lee said as she spoke of her first days in the city. “I also worked at Stella, then at Marigny Brasserie. I sang at The Spotted Cat. I knew what my goals were, so I was paying lots of attention to everything.”
Lee’s ultimate goal was to open her own bar/restaurant. So, while she sang at The Spotted Cat, Lee kept a keen eye on the business side of things. Years of research working in bars and restaurants helped Lee visualize her life beyond singing. When the chance came to realize her dream, Lee and two partners, Christopher Starnes and chef Daniel Esses, opened Three Muses, a bar/restaurant on Frenchman Street.
“While there was a lot of great music and a lot of great restaurants, there weren’t many places that did drinks, music and food all at the same time. So, those are Three Muses, as well,” Lee said.
In addition to owning Three Muses, Lee has kept her focus on the other aspect of her dream. On Lee’s debut album, “Tallulah Moon,” she worked with 13 musicians. Out of those musicians, four eventually became her regular playing partners.
“Love Street Lullaby,” Lee’s newest album, is the official debut of Lee and her band. The lineup includes Lee (vocals), Dave Boswell (trumpet), Matt Johnson (guitar), Bart Ramsey (piano and accordion) and Tommy Sciple (upright bass). The album also features special guests Matt Rhody (voilin) and Chris Kohl (clarinet).
Among the collection of traditional jazz covers, there are three originals on the new album -- the ideas for which came to Lee in the middle of the night.
“I would dream about the chords and take notes on my iPhone,” she said. “I’d think of the words and flesh out the chords with my piano player, then take it to the band to flesh out their parts.”
Lee’s message to the world is transparent in her music, as well as in the food and drinks at Three Muses – to love and be loved, a tenet that has also been a driving force all her life.
“The biggest influence in my life has been my mother,” Lee said. “She was a woman full of love. She took care of everybody. That sort of rubbed off on me. It’s part of my nature to give as much love as possible and surround myself with positivity.”
Lee and her band are hosting a release party for “Love Street Lullaby” at Three Muses at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2. They also perform every Thursday evening at The Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street in New Orleans.