Marjory Lee “Living on an Island”
You have to travel South Carolina’s SR 21 through Beaufort, Lady’s Island, St. Helena Island, and Hunting Island before getting to the end of the road to reach the small barrier island called Fripp Island where Marjory Lee grew up. I mention this only to give a glimpse at the isolated, yet charming, roots and background that helped form the musical paradox of life experiences of a child that learned to sing before she learned to speak. At age four, Marjory Lee made her debut on stage, at a local talent show, singing “Talk to The Animals” from Dr. Doolittle. She learned the song before she learned to read.
This spirit continued through dance competitions with bedazzled costumes, playing piano at age 5, and discovering a love of guitar at age 7. The small village of Fripp Island had an equally small school with virtually no music education. Her first guitar teacher usually began teaching students when they turned 13 years old. Marjory Lee convinced him to start teaching her at age 9 and, if she didn’t improve, he could stop. He kept teaching her classical guitar into her teens. Interestingly, Marjory still hears the sounds and rhythms of the lyrics before really understanding the words. At age 12, she was invited by her vocal teacher, Marlena Smalls & The Hallelujah Singers, to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
Marjory Lee’s parents vacationed in Key West. On one vacation when she was sixteen, Marjory was invited on stage at Irish Kevin’s by musician John Solinski to sing “Sweet Child of Mine.” The family met and became friends with Caffeine Carl and his wife Erin so young Marjory was allowed to hang out at the Smokin’ Tuna and listen to the music without her parents.
At age seventeen, Marjory moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University and study music business. She almost immediately saw the need to learn the basics of making money with music. It’s not the creative side but Marjory found it a necessary part of a music career. Most of the pure music majors needed to take some of the music business electives in their curriculum and would perform an average of twenty-five points lower than the music business majors in the selected classes.
In Nashville, the business of ‘music business’ is extremely important. Songwriting dominates the music scene much more than most cities. Original music is recorded every week in Nashville at phenomenal rates. Country music is the most common genre in Nashville but others, like blues and rock are becoming more common. Marjory Lee would attend songwriters’ showcases and ‘Writers Rounds’ (a group of songwriters in a circle taking turns singing their songs) to listen to new original music which are common in many of the clubs. She became a Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) songwriter and attended numerous songwriter festivals.
Carolyn Guarini and Marjory became friends while together in Nashville. When Carolyn arrived in Key West, followed shortly by her partner, Andy Wescott and his band, she invited Marjory to join them for a week-long gig at the Hog’s Breath Saloon in 2014. They all had great fun and, at a certain point, realized they were making good money. Westcott decided he would just stay in Key West. Having recently purchased a house in Nashville, Marjory returned to her new home but quickly realized she wasn’t making as much money and was definitely not having as much fun as in Key West. Within nine months, Marjory Lee decided to move to Key West.
Her favorite gigs are performing almost anything at the Key West Theater, especially the Sunday Ramble. When the pandemic hit and Key West was locked down, it was very cool but no one knew how long it would last, and expenses quickly became overwhelming so she returned to her Nashville home.
She lasted until almost winter and quickly returned to Key West. Marjory Lee continues to write music, performs her original music often, and is planning a new release soon. She really appreciates living in Key West. The audience for live music is constantly changing. She is often asked by visitors why she doesn’t come to play music in (fill in the blank city). She thinks to herself, “…but you came here to beautiful Key West.”