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Dinah Lee

dinahlee_022In the 1960s Dinah Lee was the most successful female singer in her New Zealand homeland (and “next-door” in Australia.)

Born Diane Jacobs, she began appearing at her father’s nightclub in Christchurch at the age of 15. She was also modelling by the time she went to Auckland.

Performing at a variety of clubs and coffee lounges, she crossed paths with two of the hottest bands in town, Max Merritt and the Meteors, and Ray Columbus and The Invaders.

Her big break came when the mother of Max Merritt’s main singer died and Dinah was asked to fill in for a tour.

Signed to influential local label Viking Records, Dinah entered the recording studios with Max and the Meteors to record her own versions of two soul/r&b songs she had heard on a Dee Dee Sharp record – Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s Don’t You Know Yockomo and Jackie Wilson‘s Reet Petite.

Both songs became New Zealand number ones and Dinah became a pop sensation, heads above the other female singers of the day – Maria Dallas, Sandy Edmonds and Allison Durbin. She followed up with a third big hit, a Jamaican ska song Do The Blue Beat.

Australia’s king of rock Johnny O’Keefe recognised that there was nothing like Dinah in Australia either and invited her to appear on his Sing Sing Sing TV show.

dinahleePerformances on the rest of Australia’s pop TV shows followed. At the same time as Ray Columbus and The Invaders became the first New Zealanders to score a Number One record in Australia, Dinah was Top Ten with Don’t You Know Yockomo.

The Invaders’ hit She’s A Mod could easily have been about Dinah Lee herself. The fashion sense she brought into her pop career from her modelling days, made Dinah queen of the Mods, Australia’s most imitated female. Her next big hit was Reet Petite, backed by Do The Blue Beat.

Dinah now divided her time between both sides of the Tasman. In New Zealand she starred in two half-hour TV specials and had another hit with Who Stole The Sugar?.

In 1965 she moved to London, to record with Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, and appeared on shows like Thank Your Lucky Stars and Scene At 6.30.

Dinah was also the only Australasian to appear on America’s Shindig! show. On one of her two appearances she joined Ray CharlesThe Righteous Brothers and an unknown singer called Glen Campbell for a rendition of Ray’s Hit The Road Jack.

Dinah Lee spent the rest of the Sixties consolidating a lucrative nightclub career. Based in Sydney, she still performs today.