Katie Lee has emerged as one of the Southwest's most outspoken environmental activists. Like David Brower and Ed Abbey, Katie has taken up the torch they left burning when they died to sing, write and lecture about the importance of preserving and restoring wilderness refuges; the lonesome characters the West still breeds; and the histories of ancient races embedded in its sinuous sandstone canyons. Today, her unwavering commitment to her principles and feisty eloquence are primarily directed at draining Powell Reservoir and letting the Colorado River once again run wild.
According to the late Ellen Meloy, author of Raven's Exile, in her foreword to Katie Lee's third book, Sandstone Seduction, Katie is: "Outrageous, mischievous, and never shy about calling a shithead a shithead, Lee is a woman so far ahead of her time, we are still catching up. She writes with fists and flesh to the wall, rendering an acid hatred for the canyon's destroyers and a near perfect sense of the deep pleasure that comes when a few companions float downriver and share beauty by instinct rather than conversation."
Now in her nineties, Katie has had an eclectic and wild-riding career. A native Arizonan, Katie Lee began her professional career in 1948 as a stage and screen actress. She performed in motion pictures in Hollywood, had running parts on four major NBC radio shows, including The Great Gildersleeve and One Man's Family; in the early 50's, she was a pioneer actress and folk music director on The Telephone Hour with Helen Parrish. In the mid-50's she left Hollywood to spend 10 years as a performer in coffeehouses and cabarets throughout the US, Canada and Mexico, singing folksongs to her own guitar.
Katie's first book, Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse, takes the reader on a tour of the West and its people as the author tells the process of her rediscovery of the sources of the cowboy's music. The book celebrates the history of cowboys through their songs
"A beautiful job...exact, comprehensive and witty. Should remain a basic history of the subject for many years to come." Ed Abbey, Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang, et al.
"Katie Lee's book of cowboy songs and commentary, Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, is a classic. And besides all her knowledge, she really knows how to sing these songs." Hal Cannon, Executive Director of the famous Folk Life Center in Elko, Nevada.
In conjunction with the book, Katie made an award-winning television documentary, The Last Wagon, which celebrated the lives of Gail Gardner and Billy Simon, Arizona's cowboy legends. The film won the 1972 Cine Golden Eagle Award. She also released several recordings of cowboy songs for her own label, Katydid Books and Music: Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, a double album of songs from the book by the same name.
Katie Lee's published her second book, All My Rivers Are Gone, in 1999 with Johnson Books in Boulder Colorado. The book brings Glen Canyon back to life as she tells about her journeys down the Colorado River with a few close friends. It was republished in 2006 by Fretwater Press, Arizona under the new title Glen Canyon Betrayed - A Sensuous Elegy. This new publication features an Afterword, many more photos, an index and beautiful new cover painting by Serena Supplee; The Foreword by Terry Tempest Williams.
"In so many ways, this is a woman who embodies the power and tenacious beauty of the Colorado Plateau. Her spitfire intelligence and redrock resolve provides us with an individual conscience that we would do well to adopt. Katie Lee is a joyful raconteur, a woman with grit, grace and humor. She is not afraid to laugh and tease, cajole and flirt, cuss, rant, howl, sing and cry. Katie Lee is the desert's lover. Her voice is a torch in the wilderness."
Just as the Sierras were John Muir's refuge, Glen Canyon was Katie's. For more than a decade she regularly ran, guided, photographed and explored the canyon; knew the river guides and characters that roamed there; and named many of its side canyons. In 1953 she was the 175th person to run the Grand Canyon after John Wesley Powell's first run in 1869, and the third woman to run all rapids in Grand Canyon. Ten years later, despite Lee's and other's protests against the Glen's destruction, Glen Canyon Dam was completed-190 miles of Glen Canyon and Colorado River drowned beneath Powell reservoir; leaving a truncated Grand Canyon to shift for itself with intermittent flows of ice water. A river no more!
Her anger over the "political damning of an Eden unequaled," became the driving force that turned her into an environmental activist and agitator. Katie says of her early activist efforts: "Our efforts, with meager numbers and unschooled politics, were like trying to put out a wildfire with a teacup."
Two recordings were released in tandem with the book - Colorado River Songs: Katie singing songs she wrote about the river and Glen Canyon River Journeys, featuring readings from the book and singing some songs.
Sandstone Seduction, her third book, is a collection of essays about growing up in the laid back town of Tucson with her cowboy buddies and Mexican border friends; about life as a Hollywood actress; wilderness river explorer and guide; of adventures in Baja California, Mexico, Alaska and Jerome, Arizona - where she has lived since 1971.
Her current offering is a DVD, Love Song to Glen Canyon. The DVD features Katie talking and singing about Glen Canyon against the background of 140 color photographs that she took on her river journeys through the canyon in the fifties and sixties, before this beautiful canyon was drowned.
Katie serves on the Advisory Board of the Glen Canyon Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates the draining of Powell Reservoir and restoring the natural ecosystem, health and beauty of the Colorado River through a truncated Grand Canyon. In the past few years she has been featured often in radio interviews and television and movie documentaries.
Katie has been interviewed on National Public Radio and has been featured on many TV specials. Highlights include Alexandria Costeau's Blue Planet (co sponsored by National Geographic, Ocean Foundation and others; "The Dilemma of Grand Canyon: The Econsystem Paradox" (Japan); "Mein Amerika" (Germany); and "Naked Planet" (Britain).
She has received many prestigious awards, among them-The Glen Canyon Institute's David Brower Award for outstanding environmental activism and Tucson-Pima Public Library's Lawrence Clark Powell Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2011, she will be inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall Of Fame.
Katie has been featured on many TV specials. Highlights include: Alexandria Costeau's Blue Planet (co sponsored by National Geographic, Ocean Foundation and others; The Dilemma of Grand Canyon: The Econsystem Paradox. (Japanese TV); "Mein Amerika" w/ Claus Kleber (German TV); and Naked Planet (British TV).