Céline Dion fans are certain to be found everywhere, regardless of proximity. The international superstar’s illustrious career has been built on her unparalleled vocal abilities and performance prowess, which have captivated global audiences. So, when legendary Montreal jazz vocalist Ranee Lee was offered the chance to record Celine Dion’s songs for a new album, she responded with a firm “no”… Initially, However, she ultimately accepted the challenge. Because You Loved Me, the new album by Lee, is available now.
When Lee’s record label, Justin Time, suggested that she cover Celine Dion’s songbook, she responded quite decisively. The Juno-winning artist states, “I said no.” “After listening to a three-minute explanation, I reiterated my refusal. And I refused every request for days.” The idea of putting her own spin on classics such as “The Power of Love,” “All By Myself,” and the titanic-sized hit “My Heart Will Go On” was daunting. “At first, I thought they were joking,” says Lee. Then it became clear that they were not. I adore Céline as a vocalist; she is phenomenal. No one can match her skill and versatility in the present day. However, it is not my style of music. Then I had some time to consider the situation.
“She has a substantial fan base, and they want to hear those songs performed by Céline,” added Lee. “In the world of popular music, you cannot deviate from the past. I was afraid because I did not wish to be regarded as a Céline disciple.” Lee enlisted Taurey Butler, her close collaborator, pianist, and producer, to create new arrangements. In addition to Butler, most of Lee’s long-time band and other stellar musicians contributed to the recording, including Carlos Jiminéz on guitar, Dave Watts on bass, Jim Doxas on drums, Richard Beaudet on saxophone, Ron DiLauro on trumpet, Muhammad Abdul Al Khabyyr on trombone, and a string section featuring Kate Bevan-Baker, Emilie Brûlé, and Amanda Keesmaat on violins and cell
Does Lee have a relationship with Dion? She says, “I met Céline so many years ago.” “We were so young, particularly Celine. It was in passing during a late-night telethon in Montreal. I have no idea if she has heard of the album, but there is a chance she is familiar with the numerous recordings by artists who are inspired by her work as a vocal icon and the ubiquity of the songs she imprinted. If she has heard our renditions, I can only hope that she enjoys the jazz arrangements of her works.” However, one very significant contributor was missing. This would be Lee’s first album without her husband, guitarist Richard Ring, who passed away in 2018 from cancer. Nonetheless, while creating Because You Loved Me, Lee felt Ring’s presence.
Prior to the release of her new album, Lee has released jazzified versions of “Tale As Old As Time” from Beauty and the Beast, “I’m Alive,” and “Nature Boy,” a Nat King Cole classic that is both Lee and Dion’s all-time favorite. With the release of Because You Loved Me, the companion single is “The Prayer,” which was co-written by music legends David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager and performed by Céline Dion and Andrea Bocelli in a Grammy-winning duet. Lee, who was born in Brooklyn and has lived in Montréal for over 50 years, has established himself as one of Canada’s finest jazz vocalists. On the Justin Time label, she has released thirteen acclaimed albums, including Because You Loved Me. She has been nominated for multiple JUNOs and won the award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year in 2010 for Ranee Lee Lives Upstairs. Lee states, “I don’t believe anyone could replace Céline; I think she’s fantastic.” “I do not wish for this album to be regarded as a tribute to her; rather, it is a vehicle for a jazz album. However, if it works for people who enjoy her music, I’m game.”