Focus Daily News Ad Executive Wendy Lee Turns 80
Remember when you almost sang with Elton John, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Kenny G and Smokey Robinson?
The Moon Rise Tour in 1987, an AIDS Awareness show created to help raise funds for those affected by the disease, was created by singer/songwriter Julie Ann Matlock of Phoenix. It was produced in Tucson by Julie Anne and Bob Handy, the man behind the mega-hit Jesus Christ Superstar.
Focus Daily News’ Advertising Executive Wendy Lee was part of the opening act chosen to sing and warm up the audience before the big names came out to entertain the crowds.
“Exciting times!” she understates with glee, “I was supposed to be a part of the opening act. I met so many wonderful people.” Even Entertainment Tonight heard about the project and was calling Julie Ann. “But sadly, the show never materialized. The project bombed.”
She didn’t, however, and went on to sing and earn multiple songwriting awards in the future. She even had a wonderful job offer in Hawaii but had to turn it down to raise her children.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she moved to Texas in 1978 and has been here ever since. Two of her four grown children moved back to Ohio because, “they couldn’t take the heat!”
By the age of two she learned all the lyrics to the songs sung by the choir in her hometown Methodist church in Avon, and she kept singing right through high school for the church and school choirs. “I even sang a solo in my high school,” she remembers proudly.
She grew up in the country where she learned to work hard and was picking green beans for hours a day at the age of eight-and-a-half at the neighbor’s farm across the street.
She was a cheerleader, basketball player and ran track in high school, “So I could jump high!’” which got her a job at age 18 as the ‘Starting Flag Girl’ at the local racetrack where her husband would drag race.
“Back then we didn’t have those fancy lights to begin the races so I would stand out there and flag the race to begin, jumping high!” She got the job the old-fashioned way: she went right up to the man holding the flags and asked if she could do it. “He watched me start one race and said, ‘You’re hired!’”
She even ‘started’ drag racing star “Big Daddy Don Garlits,” at Thompson Drag Strip in Ohio. There’s a museum in Ocala, Florida dedicated to him. “Anybody that knows anything about drag racing knows about him.”
Kids & Career
That began her professional career as a cheerful promoter and salesperson. She was one of the first women to sell cars in the 70s and after her move to Texas, eventually got into the news business selling ads first for the DeSoto Newspaper and then the Lancaster News. For the past 15 years she’s been a key member of the Focus Daily News team.
Her writing, however, is more lyrical than hard news. Wendy began songwriting in the 70s and became so good at it she won awards. The Kerrville regional songwriting contest awarded her twice, a regional winner for the state of Texas. A key part of the Kerrville Folk Festival every year, over 6,000 entries are considered.
Winning Awards For Songwriting
Wendy was one of 13 Regional winners in Texas in both 1998 and 2001. For songwriters like her, “It’s a really big deal! I was jumping up and down both times,” she says, “I thought I’d won the Oscar or something!”
She was also a Semi-finalist at the 2001 B W Stevenson’s Songwriting Contest at Poor David’s Pub. One of her songs is even in a movie, “Aarons’ Blood,” about a vampire. Written and directed by Tommy Stovall of Cedar Hill, it starred James Martinez, known for his role as Alex Romer in season five of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and Armando Salazar of the Hulu series “Love, Victor.”
Stovall’s well-known for the movie “Hate Crime,” a mystery-crime drama which was produced and filmed in the Dallas area in 2005. He resides in Arizona now.
Her musical collaborator for years was David Lambert, who gave guitar lessons to local musical hero Stevie Ray Vaughn. “Our act was called ‘Two Way Ticket,’ and sometimes we’d dress up as Bonnie and Clyde for gigs,” Wendy remembers. They played together locally hundreds of times at venues like the Lancaster Artfest, Plano Balloonfest and at Café’ Brazil.
Her love of music came from her father, she says, who played both the saxophone and clarinet in the Army Air Corps Band. He even opened for Bob Hope’s USO tour a few times.
Animal Rescue Hero
While music defined her childhood, animals have defined her adult life. She estimates she’s had over 850 pets in her 80 years, from turtles to donkeys to parrots and all kinds of exotic birds, horses, Ponies, goats, rabbits, dogs, and cats – you name it. Her love of animals came from her mother, and she says, “I was even in 4H in school, and a 4H advisor as an adult. Our club was Makin’ Waves.”
Wendy lives on two acres and so has the room for her current four dogs and four cats. Her donkey, “Sergeant Pepper,” just died recently, after 32 years.
She has four grown children, sons Dale and Marty, daughters Tracy and Bobbi, 13 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Covid has kept her from travelling, but she hopes to get up north soon to visit with the great grands she has yet to meet.
Meanwhile, Wendy plans to keep on working in Texas, because she loves her coworkers and customers and considers them family. She turns 80 in October and has no plans to slow down. She wants to write a book about her life and has a CD out of all her original songs.
Looking back on her busy life, it’s no wonder she’s in the news business. In the 1970s she was a model for several publications, including Family Circle Magazine. As an octogenarian, she’s a model for many who are still enjoying life and working after eight decades.
Happy Birthday Wendy Lee!