Vocalist Bonnie Lee has been gracing Chicago stages for decades, but only recently has her reputation extended beyond a tight coterie of south- and west-side admirers. In an age of screamers and shouters Lee provides a welcome dash of elegance: her deep, sweet contralto is a stripped-down version of the sophisticated crooning of singers like Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. Despite her smoothness and her occasional forays into scatlike vocalese, however, Lee remains an unreconstructed blueswoman: her church roots come through in everything she sings, and she’s especially adept at bringing an aching passion to songs of longing and desire such as “I Need Someone’s Hand to Lead Me Through the Night.” She can also be a ball of fire on up-tempo shouters. Her anthem “I’m Good” is a quirky classic of protofeminist assertion, and beneath her aura of calm dignity she radiates a spontaneous, heartfelt sense of vibrancy and life. Thursday, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 528-1012.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.