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Lee Dorsey

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Lee Dorsey (December 24, 1924 – December 2, 1986) was an American rhythm & blues singer. His biggest hits were “Ya Ya” (1961) and “Working in the Coal Mine” (1966). Much of his work was produced by Allen Toussaint with instrumental backing provided by The Meters.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Dorsey was a childhood friend of Fats Domino before moving to Portland, Oregon when he was ten years old. 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.
His first recording was “Lottie Mo”, for the small Valiant label in 1958, and he also recorded for the Rex label. These efforts were unsuccessful, but around 1960 he was discovered by A&R man Marshall Sehorn, who secured him a contract with Fury Records, owned by Bobby Robinson. 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. Dorsey returned to running his repair business, but also released singles on the small Smash and Constellation labels in 1963 and 1964.

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