Kimise Lee is affectionately known as “Songbird.” Take a listen to her album, “I Choose You” and it becomes readily apparent how she gained that nickname. Her voice is melodic with a touch of soul; captivating, yet not overstated.
To some, it would seem that singing was inevitable for Lee who came from a very musical family. The Boughknight Specials were well known singers within the Church of God in Christ denomination. “The bulk of my family is so talented. If they didn’t sing, they played an instrument. If anyone in the C.O.G.I.C. church ever heard of The Boughknight Specials, they will tell you that those women can sing,” Lee laughingly says.” But instead of just taking that route, it was the gentle nudge of a teacher that set her on her career trajectory.
Lee released her album, “I Choose You” in the summer of 2012 and the album continues to gain popularity. A graduate of Washington, D.C.’s famed Duke Ellington School of the Arts, her journey has not been without pain or struggle. However, this “songbird” is ready to soar.
The DC Gospel Music Examiner spoke with Kimise Lee about her album, her struggles and why music has become her life’s song.
When did you know that music is what you wanted to do?
“When I was in junior high school I was in the choir at Shaw Junior High. My music teacher at the time, Anita Jones called me in and said to me ‘you have a beautiful voice.' She said ‘there’s so much more that can come out of you. But you just got to let go, your voice is so beautiful. I’m going to recommend you go to Duke Ellington.’ When she said that to me, that’s when I knew this is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m going to be; I want to be a singer. I wanted to be serious about it, to be able to be accepted into Duke Ellington. To learn classical music and to learn to sing in four different languages, that was a great accomplishment for me. I wasn’t too enthused about singing classical music; at that time in my life I was interested in singing R&B. My vocal teacher said to me ‘if you can sing classical music or opera music you can sing anything.’ I said ‘okay’ (laughs). I thank God for that experience."
Your album is called “I Choose You.” Why that title?
“In Jeremiah 1:9 it states that He chose us before we were in our mother’s womb and knew us before we were born. Which means He chose us with all of our mishaps with all of our shortcomings and I’m so proud to say that I choose Him as my Lord and Savior, because He chose me before I was in my mother’s womb. So I thank God for choosing me.”
Lee’s album is full of songs that reflect her heart toward God and her desire to communicate his faithfulness. “Stand Still,” a remake of the Lecresia Campbell/ Wilmington Chester Choir song is one of them.
“It was one of my favorite songs, a song that I would minister a lot in church and a song that really spoke to my spirit. In a lot of situations that we go through in life, we really need to stand still and wait on the Lord, to not conform to our own will. With all that I have been through, that song has really spoke volumes to me and I know that it’s something that people can identify with.”
One of the things that Kimise Lee went through was the loss of her mother, who she considered her best friend. She and her father, Pastor Kimus J. Boughknight did not always have a close relationship. Although he was there until she was 6 years old, things changed after things with her parents did not work out. However, through the tragic loss of her mother, Mary V. Lee, reconciliation took place. Pastor Bouknight appears on the song “We Need You.”
“That song is very special to me, very dear to my heart, because it’s a duet with my dad. My dad and I had not always had a father-daughter relationship. Growing up as a child he wasn’t always there. I had that emptiness, that void of not having a father figure in my life which to me were the most important years of my life, transitioning, becoming a young woman, graduating from junior high school and going on to high school, having recitals, being at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and being a singer following in my dad’s footsteps. I wanted my dad to know that I could sing; I wanted him to be there. I didn’t develop a relationship with my dad until after I lost my mom. He and I became very close, so to be able to accomplish a duet with him is really so special to me. It really fills my heart.”
Lee is certain that this restored relationship would make her mother extremely happy.
“I know my mom would be so proud. That’s all she ever wanted, for me and dad to have a strong relationship. I wish that she could be here to see our relationship now, the bond that we have now. She would be proud of my accomplishments as well. We were very close; she was like my best friend. I miss her dearly and this whole CD is dedicated to her and her memory because she meant so much to me.”
That love is very evident on “Better Place,” a musical interlude where listeners get to hear the voice of Mary V. Lee, who would often call her daughter from her hospital room and tell her how much she loved her.
“It’s an interlude with my mom. It is actually my mother speaking. I was actually able to get a voice message that she left me when she was in the hospital. Once the song came about, I thought I could use this. I worked with Brad Bearwald at Studio 51. He’s like a genius to me (laughs). I recorded it on a small audio recorder and he was able to clean it up as much as he could. “Better Place” is one of my favorite songs. After losing my mom, she was my inspiration and motivation for finishing my project.”
Lee is definitely someone who appreciates those who have helped her achieve her musical vision. She sings the praises of Maurice “Modigga” Randolph, Leroy “Scooter” Taylor, Jaques Johnson, Teddy Davis, Kal-El-Gross and many others who she includes in the CD’s liner notes. She also collaborated with her very good friend, Stellar Award winner Y’Anna Crawley who is featured on "Love On Me" and “So Glad I’m Saved.”
“Y’Anna worked with me on some of the songs on this CD as well and co-wrote some of the songs. She is with me on ‘So Glad I’m Saved” and this is a song we worked together on in a group called Heaven Sent. It’s a very powerful song and it’s also an interlude with my niece (Raquel Lee). The song is just about being happy to be saved because I could be somewhere else in life.”
The album is packed with engaging songs. How does Lee describe her music?
“A contemporary, urban soulful feel of gospel music. It provides a traditional affect with it as well. When I sing I think it really comes out, the traditional part kicks in and you can’t get past that sometimes the Holy Spirit kicks in.”
Kimise Lee will appear at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church on Apr. 7 and at True Vine Baptist Church for a women’s conference on March 25. Other dates are being confirmed. “I Choose You” is available on iTunes, Amazon and other digital outlets.
For more information on Kimise Lee, visit www.kimisesongbirdlee.com