Irving Lee Dorsey (December 24, 1924 – December 1, 1986) was an African American pop and R&B singer during the 1960s.
His biggest hits were “Ya Ya” (1961) and “Working in the Coal Mine” (1966).
He served in the United States Navy in World War II and then began a career in prizefighting.
Boxing as a lightweight in Portland in the early 1950s, he fought under the name Kid Chocolate and was reasonably successful.
He retired from boxing in 1955 and returned to New Orleans, where he opened an auto repair business as well as singing in clubs at night.
After meeting songwriter and record producer Allen Toussaint at a party, he recorded “Ya Ya”, a song inspired by a group of children chanting nursery rhymes.
It went to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
Although the follow-up “Do-Re-Mi” also made the charts, later releases on Fury were not successful.
The song reached no.7 on the R&B chart in late 1965, and he followed it up with “Get Out Of My Life, Woman”, “Working in the Coal Mine” – his biggest pop hit – and “Holy Cow”, all of which made the pop charts in both the US and the UK.
Dorsey toured internationally, and also recorded an album with Toussaint, The New Lee Dorsey in 1966.
In 1970 Dorsey and Toussaint collaborated on the album Yes We Can; the title song was Dorsey’s last entry in the US singles chart.
Eventually evolving into The Meters, they led Lee through a string of R&B hits through the mid-Seventies, culminating in the critically acclaimed (but commercially unsuccessful) 1978 album Night People.
The sweetly doom-laden ‘Get out Of My Life, Woman’ was another excellent song that deserved a better commercial fate.
‘Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On)’ became Dorsey’s last substantial hit in 1969, although the title track to his ‘concept’ album, ‘Yes We Can’, did reach the US R&B Top 50.
Dorsey continued to record for Polydor Records and ABC Records and remained a popular figure, so much so that he guessed on the 1976 debut album by Southside Johnny And The Asbury Dukes and supported the Clash on their 1980 tour of North America.
In 1977, Dorsey tried a comeback and released the album, “Night People,” but it was not a success.
Many of his songs were redone by the likes of Devo, John Lennon, The Pointer Sisters, The Judds, and Ike & Tina Turner.
Dorsey continued to work into the 1980s, until he was stricken with emphysema.
And even though Dorsey’s career was inevitably tied to Toussaint’s own decline, he remained a beloved fixture, both on the local scene and to soul and funk aficionados around the world.
On December 1, 1986, Lee Dorsey passed away in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the age of 62, three weeks before his 63rd birthday.
There have been many famous singers all over the world, some we know about and some we are not aware of.