Dinah Lee is the most successful New Zealand female pop artist of the 1960s and one of the shiniest stars to emerge from the pool of talent in this small nation.
A child of the south, Christchurch raised and launched her, and the ties remain strong, but work was the imperative and it took her away.
Dinah Lee emerged out of the creative maelstrom of the Swinging Sixties. Post-war conservatism had exploded into full-scale cultural revolution.
The smiley, effervescent “Queen of the Mods” – as Dinah would quickly come to be known – was an unmatched, larger-than-life, fashion-forward presence on the New Zealand entertainment scene for an intensive few years in the mid-60s, with a voice that was sweet and poppy or raunchy enough to give her vocals an edge when a song demanded it.
She whizzed up the charts on both sides of the Tasman with a succession of hits and, with ‘Reet Petite’, became the first New Zealand female singer to achieve a No.1 in Australia, Next single and arguably her signature tune, ‘Do The Bluebeat’ summed up the exuberance of the 60’s and cemented her superstar status.
Lee was a fashion leader for her squadrons of fans, and by the end of the 60s had arguably become the standard by which every aspiring female pop artist in Australasia would be judged.
Everything revved up considerably when ‘Don’t You Know Yockomo’, was released in 1964, backed by Max Merritt and the Meteors and hit number one on both sides of the Tasman.
More hit singles and extensive touring in New Zealander and Australia was to follow, as well as a permanent move to Sydney. From that base she then launched into the heart of the winging Sixties – London; flatting with Millie Small (of ‘My Boy Lollipop’ fame) and sharing the stage with a pre-Bowie David Jones, amongst other tales.
On returning to Australia, Dinah was next off to Vietnam to entertain ANZAC troops fighting in the conflict. Both countries have since awarded Dinah medals for her contribution to troop morale.
Dinah was also the first Australasian act to appear on American music show Shindig, with Glen Campbell requesting to duet with her after being duly impressed by Dinah’s x-factor.
Unlike many 60s pop acts, Dinah’s star refused to fade. Indeed, the 70s and onwards saw her perform more and more and she was also much in demand for TV appearances especially in Australia.
There are few musicians around that we can say are living legends, but Dinah is certainly one of those. We salute the Queen of the Mods and welcome her to the NZ Music Hall of Fame | Te Whare Taonga Puoro o Aotearoa.