Irving Lee Dorsey was born in New Orleans and seems to have dropped his first name, preferring to go as Lee. While in elementary school, he was friends with Fats Domino, but his family moved to the West Coast when he was ten.
Lee moved back to Portland after a tour in the Navy during WW II. Lee pursued a light heavyweight boxing career as Kid Chocolate, but hung up his gloves and moved back to New Orleans in 1955. He began living a dual life: running an auto repair shop during the day and singing in clubs at night. Allen Toussaint began producing records for Lee in 1958, but his initial singles were not successful.
Lee co-wrote the song Ya-Ya after hearing some kids chanting nursery rhymes. Allen produced the record, and in 1961 it reached #7 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart. The record eventually sold over a million copies.
Lee’s next single failed to chart, but after that, he recorded Do-Re-Mi, a song written by blues musician Earl King. The single reached #27 and #22 on the R&B chart in early 1962.
It would be three years before Lee managed to reach the charts again and 1966 before he reached the top ten with Working In The Coal Mine. The song was written by Allen and Lee even got to lip-sync the song on television.
One more single reached the top 25, after which Lee’s singing career ended and he went back to working full-time in his auto repair shop.
Lee continued recording music when he could through 1982 and died from complications of emphysema in 1986.