|Kathryn Louise Lee|
October 23, 1919|
Aledo, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||November 1, 2017
Jerome, Arizona, U.S.
|Actress, folk singer, writer, photographer, environmental activist|
From the 1950s, Lee often sang about rivers and white water rafting. She was a vocal opponent of Glen Canyon Dam, which opened in 1963, and called for the canyon to be returned to its natural state; for her environmental activism, was often called "the Desert Goddess of Glen Canyon."
Her obituary in The New York Times states, "Ms. Lee never forgave the builders of the Glen Canyon Dam and said the only thing that prevented her from blowing it up was that she did not know how."
Kathryn Louise Lee was born in Aledo, Illinois on October 23, 1919 to decorator Ruth (Detwiler) and architect and homebuilder Zanna Lee. When she was three months old, her family moved to Tucson, Arizona. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama. Following her graduation, she left for Hollywood where she studied with two of the most successful folksingers of the 1940s, Burl Ives and Josh White.
Lee's early folk music albums, Songs of Couch and Consultation (1957) and Life Is Just a Bed of Neuroses (1960), parody the rising popularity of psychoanalysis at the time. Both albums have long been out of print, but six of her later CDs remain available. She also released three videos, including Love Song to Glen Canyon (DVD, 2007).
In 1964, Lee released an album on Folkways Records, entitled Folk Songs of the Colorado River. In the 1980s, she recorded a cassette-only release, Colorado River Songs, consisting of old songs popular among river runners on the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, and some original compositions. This release was hailed by Edward Abbey and David Foreman, among others. Colorado River Songs was expanded to include more songs and re-released in 1997 on CD. She released Glen Canyon River Journeys on CD, which mixes music and her narration. She also was featured on the 2005 Smithsonian Folkways compilation album, Songs and Stories from Grand Canyon. In October 2011, Katie Lee was inducted into the Arizona Music Hall of Fame.
She authored five books. Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle: A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse (1976) is a study of the music, stories, and poetry of the American cowboy, later recorded as an album with Travis Edmonson.Sandstone Seduction, a 2004 memoir, relates Lee's continuing love affair with desert rivers and canyons, and discusses her Lady Godiva-style bicycle ride through downtown Jerome, Arizona, where she lived.
Lee was known for her activism against the damming of rivers, and particularly her opposition to Glen Canyon Dam in Northern Arizona, which opened in 1963. After joining a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon in 1953, she became a regular on river trips on the Colorado River and joined the opposition to the construction of Glen Canyon Dam.
In September and October 1955, Tad Nichols, Frank Wright, and she traveled through and documented parts of the canyon that later were to be submerged. This threesome named at least 25 of the side canyons they explored in Glen Canyon. "When they drowned that place, they drowned my whole guts", Lee said in a 2010 interview. "And I will never forgive the bastards. May they rot in hell." For her environmental activism, Lee was often described as "the Desert Goddess of Glen Canyon."
Brandy was a war veteran, a race car driver, announcer, and good friend of Turk Murphy. Lee noted Brandy as the prime influence on finishing and publishing her first book, Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle. Brandy is the father of her son, Jerilyn Lee Brandelius, the author of The Grateful Dead Family Album, and her four step-children from his first marriage. Brandelius died while they were married. She later married and divorced businessman Eugene Busch, Jr.
Lee lived in Jerome, Arizona from 1971 until her death in 2017; she died at her home there on November 1, 2017, aged 98. Lee's partner, Joey van Leeuwen, whom she met in 1979, committed suicide the day after her death.
Chronicles of Lee's adventures in Baja California appear in the book Almost An Island by Bruce Berger. In 2016, a short documentary entitled Kickass Katie Lee was screened at Telluride Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival where Lee was a regular guest. Lee featured prominently in "Cry Me A River", a radio episode by The Kitchen Sisters, which explored the damming of American rivers.
Lee's song, "Gunslinger", from Songs of Couch and Consultation, was translated to Swedish in 1965 and was recorded by Per Myrberg as "Skjutgalen". It also was recorded by the Limeliters on their 1961 album, The Slightly Fabulous Limeliters. This may still be available on a BMG Collectibles CD. Utah Phillips praised Katie Lee and Songs of Couch and Consultation on the 1996 album, The Past Didn't Go Anywhere on the track, "Half a Ghost Town".
Lee published five books: