Jerusha Lee is a singer/songwriter, who I had the pleasure of interviewing. She has a big voice, big smile and most of all, a big heart for helping others. Here is her story.
SMC Taylor: How old were you when you realized you wanted to become a performer?
Jerusha: I used to stand on the fireplace hearth as a toddler with an old microphone and pretend I was on a big stage. I’d often sing with my eyes closed, which lead to falling off the hearth a few times. Papa has a recording of me singing his song, “Daddy I’ll Miss You” at age five, and I think that’s when I discovered my love for performing. (That song and recording actually played on a radio station in Ireland! People would call in to win a copy of the album.)
SMC Taylor: Do you play an instrument and how did you get started playing it?
Jerusha: When I was little, our family gatherings always involved music. Family would play the fiddle, accordion, drums, harmonica, guitar, piano, spoons, and mouth harp. From those gatherings, I learned to play the drums and eventually guitar. I’m better at the drums than guitar, but I sure love the sounds of both!
SMC Taylor: I know your father has been a big influence in your music career. How has he inspired you in the direction you have taken?
Jerusha: When I was a baby, Papa nightly held me, rocked me, and sang to me. He would sing, “If I Were A Rich Man” from “Fiddler On The Roof.” It was ironic that he sang that song because he was a mechanic with a wife, and five kids to support, and we were struggling financially at times. Starting at about age 5, we would perform together as a father/daughter act at churches and nursing homes. I witnesses Papa reaching out to people, and see them smile and laugh. I learned how powerful music can be in touching lives. Papa and I were blessed to share this passion together, and blessed to still have it today.
SMC Taylor: Are there other performers in your family? Who and what do they do?
Jerusha: Well my Ma, Jody, does not perform, however she’s certainly got the eyes and ears for it. She is pitch-perfect, and will call me on it if I go flat or sharp. She’s got a knack for evaluating body language when performing, and she’s excellent at reading the audience. My sister, Dona, has a voice like Karen Carpenter, and can really sing those rich, low tones. My other sister, Dixie, plays the piano and absolutely loves music and rhythms. My brother, Joel, also plays the drums and is excellent at keeping a steady, solid beat. My other brother, Jesse, actually sang with me when we were little kids. He’s got a great voice too, but keeps it more to himself. We practically have a family band!
SMC Taylor: What roles have music and your family played in overcoming obstacles in your life?
Jerusha: Well, to start, I really am the Mechanic’s daughter and that was tough at times. I grew up in a humble home with my Ma and Papa (they’re still married after more than 40 years!) and five kids. We didn’t have much money, but we did have a lot of love. When I was younger, we were the family that the church donated boxes of food to during the holidays. One year we even received hand-sewn quilts from the ladies of the church, specially made for each sibling to keep us warm in the winter. As kids, we didn’t realize money was short or that our family was struggling financially. Papa and Ma kept us filled with faith, music and dreams. I can totally relate to Loretta Lynn’s story “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Now I appreciate being the “mechanic’s daughter” because I know what it’s like not having much in the way of material things. I’ve learned to strive to achieve my dreams regardless of the obstacles. Obstacles can be overcome with faith.
SMC Taylor: Other than your father, name five your greatest musical influences and how did they influence you.
Jerusha: In the Christian music genre, my favorite artists whom I loved to sing with were Amy Grant, Crystal Lewis, Susan Ashton, and Margaret Becker. I loved their style and the words of encouragement. On the country genre side, my favorites were Patsy Cline, Shania Twain, Wynonna Judd, and Alison Krause. They each have their own unique vocal style, and they really resonated with me. However, my ultimate dream was to lead out in worship just like Darlene Zschech at Hillsong Church in Australia. My own album, Mechanic’s Daughter, is an eclectic blend of many styles due to the influences of these great artists. My producer and I arranged our own unique versions of several of their songs.
SMC Taylor: Tell me about your first experience with a live performance?
Jerusha: My First experience singing in front of people was with my Papa and brother Jesse at a church talent show. I was about six years old. We sang a song Papa wrote called, “Pennies for Jesus.” I remember looking out at all the faces looking back at me, but felt like I was at home with Papa next to me. I wasn’t nervous and I actually wanted to sing another song. I couldn’t understand why we could only sing just one!
SMC Taylor: You have been on several mission trips, when did you start going and can you tell me about the trips you have been on.
Jerusha: My first mission trip was with a group of students from Youth With A Mission in 1995. We were sent to Kobe, Japan where a massive earthquake had destroyed much of the city. We volunteered for the Red Cross. We were assigned to build tents out of blue tarps, clean debris, or serve food to the thousands of homeless people. My task was to work in the “tent city” inside the soup kitchen. In the evenings the music-lovers would sing and perform for those living in the tarp tents. No food, no showers, no drinking water. We tried to bring some solace through music in the midst of the destruction, but I had never before been exposed to the total devastation I saw there.
My second and third mission trips were with a medical team in Ethiopia. We went for one month in 2009, and volunteered for another month in 2010. I cleaned medical tools, assisting the doctors in procedures, and learned basic local Oromo language to speak to the patients. Hundreds of people would come on foot from miles around to receive medical care. They would sleep on the dirt ground waiting for the doctors to arrive. I saw people bathing in the creek along with the cows and goats. I saw people filled with parasites, starving and dying due to the conditions they lived in. But, I also saw people with hope. Their joy was contagious. I love Africa and the people of Africa. They taught me to live with an attitude of gratitude.
My fourth mission was a three week trip to the Brazilian Amazon. I nearly burst with excitement when I heard the medical team was going to the Amazon! This time I assisted the ER doctor, as well as the dentist. I slept on an open-air boat in a hammock with giant mosquitoes swarming the net. I bathed in parasitic river water with man-eating creatures, and walked up and down muddy riverbanks with large duffel bags of medical supplies. The tribal river people were just beautiful, and grateful for any assistance. It was another life-changing experience.
SMC Taylor: Which of your mission trips had the greatest impact on you as a Christian?
Jerusha: The trip that had the greatest impact on me was Kobe, Japan, mostly because we were in the midst of such devastation, and we really needed God’s presence! The very building we stayed at, which Red Cross also used as their headquarters for Kobe, was a standing miracle. It was a four-story, white church; the only Christian church in the city. All the other buildings on every side of the church had been damaged, collapsed, or burned. The fires of the surrounding buildings burned right up to the walls of the white church, yet didn’t touch it. It was the only building in the area that Red Cross could serve out of, because it wasn’t damaged! Even a helicopter flew over to take a picture of the church, unharmed, in the midst of rubble around it. Before the quake the church averaged around 50 weekly attendees. After the quake there were so many new church attendees that they increased from one service to five per weekend. It was crazy. People wanted to know the God of the standing, undamaged church.
SMC Taylor: What influence has these trips had on your direction of your music?
Jerusha: I learned music has the power music has to communicate spirit to spirit, even in different languages. It doesn’t matter which language a person speaks, music speaks to the heart. Once I saw how powerful music can be I just wanted to become the conduit to share my music with others while helping out in times of need.
SMC Taylor: You told me that you would like your music to be a positive influence in people’s lives. What ways have you found to combine your love of music with your dedication to serve others?
Jerusha: I hope my music either inspires someone or helps them. Here’s a story which is probably the greatest experience I’ve ever been blessed to be a part of. At one retirement community, I met a man named Al. He’s the man I wrote about in my song, “Send Me.” Al was a very bitter man; a perfectionist, WWII marine, grumpy, and extremely outspoken.
One day he wanted me to come to his apartment to talk. I was nervous because I knew I’d get an ear-full, but I went. When I walked in, I noticed he was sitting in front of his wife’s ashes. He kept Margie’s urn of ashes in front of him with a photo of her attached. He shared they never had children. They always wanted them, but couldn’t have them. He had no living relatives; he’d outlived them all. He was afraid his money would run out before he passed. He said that all he wished for now was to die, and have his ashes mixed with Margie’s, and scattered into the ocean.
I was overwhelmed and started to tear-up. I grabbed a tissue and wiped my eyes. He was surprised and asked, why I was crying? I told him that he’s alive in front of me right now, and I couldn’t even think of him becoming ashes. I went to throw my tissue in the garbage, and he asked me to leave it on the counter. I thought that was an odd request! A couple of days later he called me at home and told me that he kept my tissue of tears to remind him that when he dies, someone will cry over him.
That night I cried while playing my guitar, and wrote, “Send Me” in honor of Al. I never wanted anyone to feel the way he did. Al passed away in 2010. He loved that I wrote a song about him, and recorded it because his legacy would finally live on, not through children, but through a song. It was so rewarding seeing him light up when I sang his name. Al’s legacy will live on, and I’m so honored to be part of it.
SMC Taylor: Which of your songs, published or unpublished, most exemplifies how you live your own life? If it is unpublished, can you give us a taste of the lyrics?
Jerusha: The song “Send Me” most exemplifies how I live my life. I want to be the person sent to others in times of need. I wrote this song late one night through a lot of tears. There are so many lonely people out there. The more people I can reach out to, the more I feel like I’m fulfilling the reason for my existence.
SMC Taylor: In 2006, you recorded, “Jerusha Lee Thirty Years In The Makin’ with your father. Give me some back story on how that came about.
Jerusha: In 2006, my Papa Lee and I decided to embark on a life-long dream and record an album together! We recorded a few of the songs that Papa wrote over the past thirty years, (thus the album title, “30 Years in the Makin.’ We had so much fun recording this album! You can just imagine being in my papa’s shoes. He was no longer a mechanic, but an inspirational song-writer touching the lives of many. We actually played on the radio in Dublin, Ireland, and people called in to win our duo album. The song that drew the most attention was, “Daddy I’ll Miss You.” People kept calling into the radio station requesting it. It makes me so proud of him, and proud that his music is touching lives.
SMC Taylor: You had mentioned that producing “Mechanic’s Daughter” took a few very special turns. Can you tell me about that?
Jerusha: In 2009 I moved to Glendale, California to help a retirement community. I wasn’t there to pursue a recording album with a Grammy-winning band, although that’s just what happened. In the evenings, I would go to dinner at a little jazz club called Jax nearby. Someone at the club had heard me mention that I sing, and one Thursday night, I was actually invited up on that stage to sing with the band! Long story-short, my future producer Kevin Axt was playing bass and Ray Brinker, my future drummer, was playing as well. To my complete surprise, Kevin said that I needed to make an album! My only desire for this album was to make a recording of inspirational music that can change lives and touch hearts. Kevin brought in Ray Brinker, Jim Cox on keyboards and Andrew Synowiec on guitar, and then we had a blast recording Mechanic’s Daughter! Here are these Grammy- winning guys that have played on movies, TV shows, and big-name albums…and here I am just the dreaming mechanic’s daughter from Salem, Oregon! The opportunity appeared…and I just had to go for it! I sincerely believe it was all meant to be.
SMC Taylor: You shared about a medical incident that occurred just after you agreed to record Mechanic’s Daughter. Can you tell me more about that?
Jerusha: This was a bizarre, life-changing incident. I was 36 years old. It was almost Thanksgiving, and life was going really well. One day I was at work in L.A. and was very stressed. I was standing by my desk and felt a painful burst on the right side of my forehead. Instantly my left side went numb and I couldn’t stand. I fell into my chair. I was so dizzy. I laid down, and suddenly my phone rang. It was Papa in Oregon. He said he just had an awful feeling come over him that I was in trouble and needed prayer. I told him what happened, and he insisted I get to the hospital immediately.
I was in the hospital being pushed on the gurney hearing on the overhead speakers “Brain Bleed, STAT”. I thought that person must really be in trouble. I didn’t know it was me. Apparently I had a brain bleed, but it sealed up hours later. I think all the prayer healed the bleed. The doctors were stumped by what had happened. They called off the surgery and just watched me for a few days. My entire left side was affected. I couldn’t speak well, couldn’t remember, and couldn’t walk too well. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. It took a year to recover.
The lists of things which I thought were important in life changed immensely. Death doesn’t care about your age or your dreams. It can come at any moment for anyone. I don’t take life or loved ones for granted. I cling to the saying, “Seize the Moment” now more than ever! I cherish the moments and I really want to live life to the fullest, not just talk about it. As far as the album, I was over-the-top determined to record Mechanic’s Daughter because I wanted a legacy to pass on, just in case.
SMC Taylor: You released “Mechanic’s Daughter” in 2012, with a mix of fun and inspirational covers and original music. What projects do you have in mind for the future?
Jerusha: My producer, Kevin Axt, my Papa and I have all been planning an album of all original music. I’ve written a couple more songs since Mechanic’s Daughter’s release, and Papa has a few more songs that have not been recorded yet. My all-star Grammy band would like to be a part of it again, too. If my album helps just one person, it is a success. We’re trying to make the most of every opportunity…and hopefully one person will be changed because of this. Seize the moments, daily.
If you would like more information, and would like to contact Jerusha Lee, visit her blog at: www.JerushaLee.com.