Jeannie Lewis

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Jean Ethel "Jeannie" Lewis (born 8 January 1945) is an Australian musician and stage performer whose work covers many different styles such as folk, jazz, Latin, blues, opera, rock and fusion. Her music often includes a strong social consciousness and political statements.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lewis attended Sydney Girls High School[2] and studied at the University of Sydney.[3] She began her musical career in the 1960s in Sydney. She was a part of the York Gospel Singers[4] and the Radiation Quartet[5] and sang with The Ray Price Jazz Quintet, The Nat Oliver Jazz Band and The Alan Lee Jazz Quintet.[1]

Lewis was a member of the Sydney University Organising Committee for Action on Aboriginal Rights to organise action around National Aborigines Day on 8 July 1964. She was arrested in a demonstration in May 1964 at Wynyard, and she helped arrange the folk singers for a concert in Hyde Park to raise funds for the Freedom Ride, as well as appearing in another fundraising concert at Paddington Town Hall.[3] She represented Australia at the International Festival of Contemporary Song in Cuba in 1967.[6]


In 1970, Lewis performed with Tully in an ambitious rock performance named Love 200 which involved 2 vocalists, a rock band, a Lightshow from Roger Foley-Fogg aka Ellis D Fogg and a Symphony Orchestra. Created by Peter Sculthorpe it was written to commemorate the Captain Cook bicentennial and explored themes of Captain Cook's journey to plot the transit of Venus in 1770, the voyage that led to his "discovery" of Australia.[1] Also in 1970 Lewis had a band named Gypsy Train.[1] In March 1971 Love 200 travelled to Adelaide and this time Lewis performed with Fraternity, fronted by Bon Scott, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.[7] Lewis also appeared on the Ray Price Jazz Quintet album Spectrum,[1] and in April performed at the Timeless Trip at Fairlight with eight other performers.[8]

In 1972, Lewis performed the songs for an Australian B-grade rock musical/science fiction/fantasy movie Shirley Thompson vs. the Aliens,[9] directed by Jim Sharman and noted for being "loathed by underground art-house and commercial managements alike", and in an ill-fated rock opera Terry and Frankie.[10]

In 1973, Lewis released her first album, Free Fall Through Featherless Flight. The cover was designed by Martin Sharp. In 1974 it was awarded Best Female Vocal Album in the Australian Radio Record Awards.[11] Also in 1973 Lewis joined the Music Board of the Australian Council for the Arts,[12] and she, John Bell and Jon English were in a rock musical called The Bacchoi, based on the story of Euripides and written by Bryan Nason and Ralph Tyrrell. It was the first show for the Nimrod Theatre Company in their new location at Belvoir St in Surry Hills.[13]

In 1974, Looking Backwards To Tomorrow, In and Out of Concert was released and also performed on stage at the State Theatre in Sydney, and Tears of Steel & The Clowning Cavaleras was released in 1976 to go with a multi media production featuring song, theatre, dance and visuals.[11] In 1975 Lewis was awarded a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts to study overseas and spent two years in Central and South America. In 1979, with her band Jeannie Lewis and the Company She Keeps she created and performed a series of shows titled From Maroubra to Mexico. Later that year she supported John McLaughlin on his Australian tour.[1] Krazy For You was the cabaret Jeannie devised and performed in 1979–80.[11]


Till Time Brings Change came out in 1980, and Lewis appeared in the leading role of Piaf at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne.[11] 1981 saw Lewis perform in a stage production of The Threepenny Opera as a world weary hooker with the South Australian Theatre Company. She also created and starred in Piaf, The Songs and the Story which included 4 national tours, with an album of 15 songs from the show being released in 1982. Also in 1982 Lewis created and performed For a Dancer about her mothers life. This premiered at the Adelaide Festival.[11]

In 1982 Lewis was supporting and performing at the Honeymoon Uranium mine rally at Broken Hill.[14] 1983 saw Lewis presenting her new show So You Want Blood and releasing the album of the same name in September, and in 1984 she appeared in Ta Paratragouda in Melbourne and at the Athens Festival. Also in 1984 Lewis appeared in Carmen, Another Perspective with the Melbourne Theatre Company.[11] In 1984 Lewis performed Ta Paratragouda in Melbourne. This was recorded for SBS and Greek TV.[11]

Lewis travelled overseas in 1987, representing Australia on a tour of Mexico with The Necks for the Cervantes International Arts Festival with later became a one-hour SBS TV documentary called Maroubra to Mexico. She also sang in the Paul Robeson stage show Deep Bells Ring and performed Pilgrimages, for which she wrote the text and Jim Cotter wrote the music, dedicated to a friend with AIDS.[11]


Lewis had a new show, Voxy Lady at the Adelaide Festival in 1990. This was directed by Llew Kiek and Jeannie wrote most of the show herself.[11] One of the songs from this show, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow later appeared on her 2003 CD Southheart. "A female quintet which includes Margret RoadKnight and Jeannie Lewis provides an aural chorus drawing upon a history of music ranging from Hildegard Von Bingen to Cambodian folk songs". This was the description in the Green Left Weekly of part of People Like Us at the Seymour Centre in March 1991. Directed by Mara Kiek.[15]

In 1992 Lewis devised her own cabaret of contemporary love songs named Dangerous Lovers[11] and in 1993 she sang The Plains of Emu on the album of Australian songs and Australian artists, Going Home.[16] Also in 1993 she received an Australia Council for the Arts Grant for study of Extended Voice Techniques at Roy Hart International Theatre Centre in France and the tango in its sung form in Buenos Aires.[11]

Lewis performed in the Sydney Opera House 1995 season of Cinderella Acappella, a collection of amusing children's songs written by John Shortis. It was recorded as a CD which was released and niminated for the ARIA Award for Best Children's Album in 1995.[17] Also in 1995 Lewis performed in "Viva Diva, a series of concerts featuring original work and music from around the world (Greece, Tibet, Beijing, South Africa, Argentina, the Netherlands, Corsica, France). Lead to the formation of Tango Australis –the group formed following the concerts and 1998 CD of the same name."[11]

In 1997 Lewis was awarded a fellowship at Varuna, The Writers' House,[11] and performed with Women in Voice 7 in Brisbane.[18] In 1998 Jeannie performed at the Homeless Women's Speakout at the YWCA,[19] and in the Port Fairy Folk Festival,[5] and in "Life, Love, Death and the Weather – a collaboration with dancers Chrissie Koltai, Anka Frankenhauser, Patrick Harding-Irmer, musician Steve Blau, performed at the Performance Space as part of Dance Week."[11] Tango Australia formed and the CD of the same name was released.[11] Architect's Desk and The Wig of Larks – The Bag Lady Calls The Tune were performances from 1999[11] and "In November 1999 Lewis collaborated with flamenco dancer Veronica Gillmer on the production Camerino, at Sydney's Tom Mann Theatre."[1]


One Word We was staged for a second time, opening on 8 January 2000, with Lewis as one of the seven singers. It was originally performed in 1995. By Maurie Mulheron, covering the songs and life of Pete Seeger. It was performed at the New Theatre at Newtown and later, in 2001 at the Woodford Folk Festival. A CD with the same name has been produced and it is said that the show was being edited for a documentary.[11][20]

The Palais, a building sings of lives lived in music was at the Parramatta Town Hall, 27–30 July 2000. The show involved more than fifty performers in more than 20 acts and was spread through most of the building. Urban Theatre Projects produced the show.[21] Lewis also performed in the East Timor Year One Celebration to mark and celebrate the first anniversary of East Timor's historic U.N. Referendum on self-determination at Leichhardt on 30 August 2000.[22]

In May 2001 she received an $80,000 Fellowship grant from the Australia Council, which she used to create Southheart.[1] "All this SOUThHEART thing began with me wondering why the lyrics of so many tangos refer to the south. The tango which inspired it, this delving into the bottom of my heart, was Corazon al Sur – Heart to the South. --That song from the south of Argentina, that south talks to me so much of this south and the shadow of my mother in the garden in Maroubra."[11] Lewis was a part of the East Timor Independence Day Celebrations in 2002.[23] Performing in the Trade Union Concert in 2003.[24] Performing in a tribute to Timorese women concert in 2004.[25] Also in 2004 being part of the May Day music festival in South Australia.[26]


  • Free Fall Through Featherless Flight, 1973
  • Looking Backwards To Tomorrow, In and Out of Concert, 1974
  • Tears of Steel & The Clowning Cavaleras, 1975
  • Till Time Brings Change, 1980
  • Piaf, the Songs and the Story, 1982
  • So You Want Blood, 1983
  • Tango Australis, 1998
  • SOUThHEART, 2003


  • Celluloid Heroes / Rocelli Kaharunta, 1975

Compilations and appearances[edit]

  • Folk Concert On Campus (as Jean Lewis), 1965
  • Spectrum, Ray Price Jazz Quintet, 1971
  • Three Floors Down, 1972
  • Gallery Concerts, The Alan Lee Quartet & Friends, 1973
  • Going Home : Australian artists, Australian songs, 1993
  • Cinderella Acappella, 1994
  • One Word ... WE! The Songs and Story of Pete Seeger and Friends, 2000
  • Green Songs, 2001
  • The Good Old Bad Old Days, Sydney Jazz Club Golden Jubilee 1953–2003, 2003
  • Women 'n Blues, 2003
  • Azadi : Songs of Liberation, 2005


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Jeannie Lewis". Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964–1975. Milesago. Retrieved 11 March 2008. 
  2. ^ Crikey!: Famous alumni on Latham's hit list, April 2002 Retrieved 7 January 2006. Archived 29 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b Curthoys, Ann (2002). Freedom Ride. Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-922-7. 
  4. ^ Haesler, Bill (2004). ABC, Religion and Ethics, God, Church and All That Jazz, A brief history from an Australian perspective. Retrieved 6 January 2006.
  5. ^ a b Hennessy, Julanna (2004). Jeannie Lewis on the Net. Retrieved 6 January 2006.
  6. ^ Atkinson, Ann; Knight, Linsay and McPhee, Margaret (1996). Dictionary of Performing Arts in Australia. Allen and Unwin. pp. 135–6. ISBN 1-86373-898-3. 
  7. ^ Walker, Clinton (2002). Highway to Hell. Picador. ISBN 0-330-36377-8. 
  8. ^ Milesago: Fairlight – The Timeless Tripp Retrieved 7 January 2006.
  9. ^ Hood, Robert (1994). Tabula-Rasa, Killer Koalas, Australian (and New Zealand) Horror Films, a History.. Retrieved 6 January 2006.
  10. ^ Milesago: John A. Bird Retrieved 7 January 2006.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Jeannie Lewis Official Website Retrieved 6 January 2006.
  12. ^ Whitlam Institute: Australian Council for the Arts, Press statement No. 54 Retrieved 6 January 2006. Archived 18 July 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Bell, John (2002). John Bell : the time of my life. Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-134-6. 
  14. ^ Ellis, John Brant, Jeannie Lewis at the Honeymoon uranium mine rally, May 1982. Retrieved from the Picture Australia Archive 6 January 2006.
  15. ^ (1991). Celebrating cultural diversity. Retrieved 18 February 2006.
  16. ^ "Going Home – Australian Artists, Australian Songs". Australian Rock Database. 1993. Retrieved 18 February 2006. 
  17. ^ (1994). Shortis and Simpson. Retrieved 18 February 2006.
  18. ^ (1997). Journey of emotions. Retrieved 25 February 2006.
  19. ^ Violence Against Women Information Bulletin – September 1998. Retrieved from the National Library of Australia, Pandora Archive, 6 January 2006.
  20. ^ (2000). New Theatre presents One Word.... We. Retrieved 20 May 2006.
  21. ^ (2000). A Building Sings of Lives Lived in Music by Megan Elliot. Retrieved 27 May 2006.
  22. ^ "East Timor's Year One Celebration". Workers Online No. 67, 2000 Retrieved 5 January 2006
  23. ^ "Activists Notebook". Workers Online No. 136, 2003 Retrieved 5 January 2006
  24. ^ "Singing For The People" Workers Online March 2003 Retrieved 5 January 2006
  25. ^ (2004). Alola Foundation Calendar, The Kirsty Sword ALOLA FOUNDATION Benefit. Retrieved 6 January 2006.
  26. ^ (2004). LHMU SA, SA members: May Day music festival. Retrieved 6 January 2006.

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