Peggy Lee

Norma Deloris Egstrom (May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002), known professionally as Peggy Lee, was an American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer, and actress, over a career spanning seven decades. From her beginning as a vocalist on local radio to singing with Benny Goodman's big band, Lee created a sophisticated persona, writing music for films, acting, and recording conceptual record albums combining poetry and music.

Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee 1950.JPG
Lee in 1950
Born
Norma Deloris Egstrom

(1920-05-26)May 26, 1920
DiedJanuary 21, 2002(2002-01-21) (aged 81)
Resting placeAshes buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, Los Angeles, U.S.
Known for
  • Vocals, recordings, acting
  • Songwriting
  • The Jazz Tree
  • Disney's Lady and the Tramp
  • Pete Kelly's Blues
  • The Jazz Singer
Spouse(s)
  • (m. 1943; div. 1951)
  • (m. 1953; div. 1953)
  • (m. 1956; div. 1958)
  • Jack Del Rio
    (m. 1964; div. 1964)
Children1
Musical career
OriginValley City, Jamestown, Wimbledon, Fargo, North Dakota
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actress
  • composer
InstrumentsVocals
Years active1936–2000
Labels
Associated acts

Lee recorded over 1,100 masters and composed over 270 songs.

Early lifeEdit

Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, on May 26, 1920, the seventh of the eight children of Selma Emele (née Anderson) Egstrom and Marvin Olaf Egstrom, a station agent for the Midland Continental Railroad. Her family were Lutherans.[1] Her father was Swedish-American and her mother was Norwegian-American.[2] After her mother died when Lee was four,[3] her father married Minnie Schaumberg Wiese.[4]

Lee and her family lived in several towns along the Midland Continental Railroad (Jamestown, Nortonville and Wimbledon). She graduated from Wimbledon High School in 1937. The Wimbledon depot building, where she and her family lived and worked, became the Midland Continental Depot Transportation Museum, featuring The Peggy Lee Exhibit, in 2012. The upper floor of the museum, where the Egstrom family once lived, features exhibits that trace Lee's career and her regional and state connection.[5]

In Wimbledon, Lee was the female singer for a six-piece college dance band with leader Lyle "Doc" Haines. She traveled to various locations with Haines' quintet on Fridays after school and on weekends.[6]

Lee first sang professionally over KOVC radio in Valley City, North Dakota in 1936.[7] She later had her own 15-minute Saturday radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her salary in food. Both during and after her high-school years, Lee sang for small sums on local radio stations.

In October 1937, radio personality Ken Kennedy, of WDAY in Fargo (the most widely heard station in North Dakota), auditioned Egstrom and put her on the air that day, but not before he changed her name to Peggy Lee.[8]

Lee left home and traveled to Hollywood, California at the age of 17 in March 1938. Her first job was seasonal work on Balboa Island, Newport Beach as a short order cook and waitress at Harry's Cafe. When the job ended after Easter, she was hired to work as a carnival barker at the Balboa Fun Zone. She wrote about this experience in the song, "The Nickel Ride", which she composed with Dave Grusin for the 1974 film of the same name.[6]

Later in 1938, Lee returned to Hollywood to audition for the MC at The Jade. Her employment was cut short when she fainted onstage due to overwork and an inadequate diet. After she was taken to the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center she was told she needed a tonsillectomy. Lee returned to North Dakota for the operation.[9]

The following year, remaining in North Dakota, she was hired to perform regularly at The Powers Hotel in Fargo, and toured with both the Sev Olson and the Will Osborne Orchestras.[10]

When Lee returned to California in 1940, she took a job singing at The Doll House in Palm Springs. Here, she developed her trademark sultry purr, having decided to compete with the noisy crowd with subtlety rather than volume.

"I knew I couldn't sing over them, so I decided to sing under them. The more noise they made, the more softly I sang. When they discovered they couldn't hear me, they began to look at me. Then, they began to listen. As I sang, I kept thinking, 'softly with feeling'. The noise dropped to a hum; the hum gave way to silence. I had learned how to reach and hold my audience—softly, with feeling."[6]

While performing at The Doll House, Lee met Frank Bering, the owner of the Ambassador East and West in Chicago. He offered her a gig at the Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel West. There, she was noticed by bandleader Benny Goodman. According to Lee, "Benny's then-fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth, came into the Buttery, and she was very impressed. So the next evening, she brought Benny in, because they were looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest. And although I didn't know, I was it. He was looking at me strangely, I thought, but it was just his preoccupied way of looking. I thought that he didn't like me at first, but it just was that he was preoccupied with what he was hearing." She joined his band in August 1941 and made her first recording, singing "Elmer's Tune". Lee stayed with the Benny Goodman Orchestra for two years.[11][12]

Recording careerEdit

In 1942, Lee had her first number-one hit, "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place",[13] followed in 1943 by "Why Don't You Do Right?", which sold more than one million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman's orchestra in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.

In March 1943, Lee married Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Goodman's band.[7] Lee said, "David joined Benny's band and there was a ruling that no one should fraternize with the girl singer. But I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play, and so I married him. Benny then fired David, so I quit, too. Benny and I made up, although David didn't play with him anymore. Benny stuck to his rule. I think that's not too bad a rule, but you can't help falling in love with somebody."

"...when she left the band that spring [1943], her intention was to quit the footlights altogether and become Mrs. Barbour, fulltime housewife. It's to Mr. Barbour's credit that he refused to let his wife's singing and composing talent lie dormant for too long. "I fell in love with David Barbour," she recalled. "But 'Why Don't You Do Right' was such a giant hit that I kept getting offers and kept turning them down. And at that time it was a lot of money, but it really didn't matter to me at all. I was very happy. All I wanted was to have a family and cling to the children [daughter Nicki]. Well, they kept talking to me and finally David joined them and said 'You really have too much talent to stay at home and someday you might regret it.'"[14]

She drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for Capitol Records in 1944, for whom she recorded a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including "I Don't Know Enough About You" and "It's a Good Day". Her recording of "Golden Earrings", the title song of a 1947 movie, was a hit throughout 1947–1948. "Mañana", written by Lee and Barbour, was her eleventh solo hit recording, and remained on the charts for twenty-one weeks, nine of which were in the number one position. The song sold over a million copies, and earned the Top Disc Jockey Record of the Year award from Billboard magazine.[15] From 1946 to 1949, Lee also recorded for Capitol's library of electrical transcriptions for radio stations. An advertisement for Capitol Transcriptions in a trade magazine noted that the transcriptions included "special voice introductions by Peggy".[16]

In 1948, Lee joined vocalists Perry Como and Jo Stafford as a host of the NBC Radio musical program The Chesterfield Supper Club.[17][18] She was a regular on The Jimmy Durante Show and appeared frequently on Bing Crosby's radio shows during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Her relationship with Capitol spanned almost three decades aside from a brief detour (1952–1956) at Decca.[19] For that label, she recorded Black Coffee and had hit singles such as "Lover" and "Mister Wonderful".

In 1958, she recorded her own version of "Fever" by Little Willie John, written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport,.[20] Lee created a new arrangement for the song, and added lyrics ("Romeo loved Juliet", "Captain Smith and Pocahontas"), which she neglected to copyright. Her new version of "Fever" was a hit, and was nominated in three categories at the First Annual Grammy Awards in 1959, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.[21]

While Lee was in London for a 1970 engagement at Royal Albert Hall, she invited Paul and Linda McCartney to dinner at The Dorchester. At the dinner, the couple gifted Lee with a song they had written entitled, "Let's Love". In July 1974, with Paul McCartney producing, Lee recorded the song at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, and it became the title track for her 40th album, her first and only on Atlantic Records.[9]

Lee was among hundreds of artists whose studio masters were destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[22]

Acting careerEdit

Lee starred opposite Danny Thomas in The Jazz Singer (1952), a remake of the Al Jolson film, The Jazz Singer (1927). She played an alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[23]

Lee provided speaking and singing voices for several characters in the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp (1955), playing the human Darling, the dog Peg, and the two Siamese cats, Si and Am. She also co-wrote, with Sonny Burke all of the original songs for the film, including "He's A Tramp", "Bella Notte", "La La Lu", "The Siamese Cat Song", and "Peace on Earth". In 1987, when Lady and the Tramp was released on VHS, Lee sought performance and song royalties on the video sales. When Disney refused to pay, she filed a lawsuit in 1988. After a prolonged legal battle, in 1992, Lee was awarded $2.3 million for breach of contract, plus $500,000 for unjust enrichment, $600,000 for illegal use of Lee's voice and $400,000 for the use of her name.[24][25]

During her career, Lee appeared in hundreds of variety shows, and several TV movies and specials.

Personal lifeEdit

Lee was married four times: to guitarist and composer Dave Barbour (1943–1951),[26][27] actor Brad Dexter (1953), actor Dewey Martin (1956–1958), and percussionist Jack Del Rio (1964).[9] All the marriages ended in divorce.

She gave birth to her only child at age 23, daughter Nicki Lee Foster, on November 11, 1943. Nicki's father was Peggy's first husband, Dave Barbour.[citation needed]

 
The Peggy Lee bench-style burial monument

DeathEdit

Lee continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes using a wheelchair.[28] After years of poor health, she died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack on January 21, 2002, at the age of 81.[29] She was cremated and her ashes were buried with a bench-style monument in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[30]

Awards and honorsEdit

Lee was nominated for 13 Grammy Awards. In 1969, her hit "Is That All There Is?" won her the Grammy for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance. In 1995, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[21]

She received the Rough Rider Award from the state of North Dakota in 1975,[31] the Pied Piper Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1990,[32] the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Society of Singers in 1994,[33] the Living Legacy Award from the Women's International Center in 1994,[34] and the Presidents Award from the Songwriters Guild of America in 1999.[35] Other honors include induction into the Big Band Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992,[36] the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999,[37] and the Songbook Hall of Fame from the Great American Songbook Foundation in 2020.[38]

Tributes and legacyEdit

Lee is often cited as the inspiration for the Margarita cocktail. In 1948, after a trip to Mexico, she and her husband ventured into the Balinese Room in Galveston, Texas. She requested a drink similar to one she had in Mexico, and the head bartender, Santos Cruz, created the Margarita, and named it after the Spanish version of Peggy's name.[39]

Lee was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording in 1960. The star is located at 6319 Hollywood Boulevard in California.[40]

Baseball's Tug McGraw, whose career with both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies ranged from 1965 to 1984, named one of his pitches the Peggy Lee. He explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "That's the one where the hitter is out in front of it and says, 'Is that all there is?'"[41]

In 1971, Lee sang the Lord's Prayer at the funeral of Louis Armstrong.[42]

The designer of the Miss Piggy Muppet, Bonnie Erickson, who grew up in Lee's home state of North Dakota, used the singer as inspiration for the Miss Piggy character in 1974. Originally called Miss Piggy Lee, her name was shortened to Miss Piggy when the Muppet gained fame.[43]

In 1975, Lee received an honorary doctorate in music from North Dakota State University,[9] and in 2000, she received another from Jamestown University.[44]

In 1983, Lee had a hybrid tea rose named in her honor that was pink with a touch of peach. The Peggy Lee Rose was the 1983 American Beauty Rose of the Year.[45][46]

In 2003, "There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee" was held at Carnegie Hall.[47] Produced by recording artist Richard Barone, the sold-out event included performances by Cy Coleman, Debbie Harry, Nancy Sinatra, Rita Moreno, Marian McPartland, Chris Connor, Petula Clark, Maria Muldaur, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Quincy Jones, Shirley Horn, and others. In 2004, Barone brought the event to a sold-out Hollywood Bowl,[48] and then to Chicago's Ravinia Festival, with expanded casts including Maureen McGovern, Jack Jones, and Bea Arthur.[49] The Carnegie Hall concert was broadcast on NPR's JazzSet.

On the occasion of Lee's 100th birthday on May 26, 2020, The Grammy Museum hosted an online panel discussion featuring musicians Billie Eilish, k.d. lang, Eric Burton (The Black Pumas), as well as Lee's granddaughter, Holly Foster Wells, and the author of Peggy Lee: A Century of Song, Dr. Tish Oney.[50]

Lee was ranked No. 93 on VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll.[51] She has been noted as a musical influence on other artists such as Paul McCartney,[52] Madonna, Beyoncé,[53] k.d. lang,[54] Elvis Costello,[55] Diana Krall,[56] Dusty Springfield,[57] Rita Coolidge,[58] Rita Moreno,[59] and Billie Eilish.[60]

In 2020, the ASCAP Foundation, along with Lee's family, established the annual Peggy Lee Songwriter Award. The inaugural award went to Michael Blum and Jenna Lotti for their song, "Fake ID".[61]

DiscographyEdit

SongwritingEdit

Lee wrote or co-wrote over 270 songs.[15] In addition to her own material to sing, she was hired to score and compose songs for movies. For the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp, she co-composed all of the original songs with Burke, and supplied the singing and speaking voices of four characters.[62]

Over the years, her songwriting collaborators included David Barbour, Laurindo Almeida, Harold Arlen, Sonny Burke, Cy Coleman, Duke Ellington, Dave Grusin, Quincy Jones, Francis Lai, Jack Marshall, Johnny Mandel, Marian McPartland, Willard Robison, Lalo Schifrin, and Victor Young.

Her first published song was in 1941, "Little Fool". "What More Can a Woman Do?" was recorded by Sarah Vaughan with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)" was number one on the Billboard singles chart for nine weeks in 1948, from the week of March 13 to May 8.

Lee was a mainstay of Capitol Records when rock and roll came onto the American music scene. She was among the first of the "old guard" to recognize this new genre, as seen by her recording music from the Beatles, Randy Newman, Carole King, James Taylor, and other up-and-coming songwriters. From 1957 until her final disc for the company in 1972, she produced a steady stream of two or three albums per year that usually included standards (often arranged quite differently from the original), her own compositions, and material from young artists.

Many of her compositions have become standards, performed by singers such as Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Diana Krall, Queen Latifah, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Janelle Monae, Nina Simone, Regina Spektor, Sarah Vaughan and others.[63]

Chart hitsEdit

SinglesEdit

[64]

Title Notes Peak Pop chart position Date
"I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" With Benny Goodman 25 11/15/41
"Winter Weather" Duet with Art Lund with Benny Goodman 24 1/10/42
"Blues in the Night" With Benny Goodman 20 2/14/42
"Somebody Else is Taking My Place" With Benny Goodman 1 3/7/42
"My Little Cousin" With Benny Goodman 14 4/11/42
"We'll Meet Again With Benny Goodman 16 5/23/42
"Full Moon (Noche de Luna)" With Benny Goodman 22 6/13/42
"The Way You Look Tonight" With Benny Goodman 21 6/27/42
Why Don't You Do Right?" With Benny Goodman 4 1/2/43
"Waitin' for the Train to Come In" 4 11/10/45
"I'm Glad I Waited for You" 24 3/30/46
"I Don't Know Enough About You" 7 5/25/46
"Linger in My Arms a Little Longer, Baby" 16 9/28/46
"It's All Over Now" 10 11/23/46
"It's a Good Day" 16 1/18/47
"Everything's Moving Too Fast" 21 2/8/47
"Chi-baba, Chi-baba (My Bambino, Go to Sleep)" 10 6/28/47
"Golden Earrings" 2 11/15/47
"I'll Dance at Your Wedding" 11 12/20/47
"Mañana" 1 1/24/48
"All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart" 21 1/31/48
"For Every Man There's a Woman" 25 2/28/48
"Laroo, Laroo, Lili Bolero" 13 4/3/48
"Talking to Myself About You" 23 4/17/48
"Don't Smoke in Bed" 22 5/15/48
"Caramba! It's the Samba!" 13 6/5/48
"Baby, Don't Be Mad at Me" 21 6/5/48
"Somebody Else Is Taking My Place" Reissue of 1942 single 30 6/19/48
"Bubble Loo, Bubble Loo" 23 7/3/48
"Blum Blum, I Wonder Who I Am" 27 3/12/49
"Similau (See-Me-Lo)" 17 4/23/49
"Bali Ha'i" 1 5/14/49
"Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)" 2 5/28/49
"The Old Master Painter" Duet with Mel Tormé 9 1/7/50
"Show Me the Way to Get Out of This World" 28 8/26/50
"(When I Dance with You) I Get Ideas" 14 9/8/51
"Be Anything (But Be Mine)" 21 5/24/52
"Lover" 3 6/7/52
"Watermelon Weather" Duet with Bing Crosby 28 7/26/52
"Just One of Those Things" 14 8/2/52
"River, River" 23 11/22/52
"Who's Gonna Pay the Check?" 22 5/23/53
"Baubles, Bangles and Beads" 30 12/5/53
"Where Can I Go Without You?" 28 3/13/54
"Let Me Go, Lover" 26 12/18/54
"Mr. Wonderful" 14 3/3/56
"Joey, Joey, Joey" 76 5/5/56
"Fever" 8 7/14/58
"Light of Love" 63 11/3/58
"Sweetheart" 98 11/24/58
"Alright, Okay, You Win" 68 1/26/59
"My Man" 81 1/19/59
"Hallelujah, I Love Him So" 77 8/18/59
"I'm a Woman" 54 1/5/63
"Pass Me By" Adult Contemporary chart 20 3/13/65
"Free Spirits" Adult Contemporary chart 29 10/23/65
"Big Spender" Adult Contemporary chart 9 1/29/66
"That Man" Adult Contemporary chart 31 4/9/66
"You've Got Possibilities" Adult Contemporary chart 6 6/18/66
"So What's New" Adult Contemporary chart 20 10/15/66
"Walking Happy" Adult Contemporary chart 14 10/22/66
"I Feel It" Adult Contemporary chart 8 9/30/67
"Spinning Wheel" Adult Contemporary chart 24 5/3/69
"Is That All There Is? Adult Contemporary chart 1 9/1/69
"Is That All There Is?" 11 9/27/69
"Whistle for Happiness" Adult Contemporary chart 13 12/20/69
"Love Story" Adult Contemporary chart 26 2/7/70
"You'll Remember Me" Adult Contemporary chart 16 5/9/70
"One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round" Adult Contemporary chart 21 10/3/70
"Love Song" Adult Contemporary chart 34 10/7/72
"Let's Love" Adult Contemporary chart 22 11/2/74

AlbumsEdit

Title Notes Peak Pop chart position Date
Songs from White Christmas With Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye 2 1/1/55
Songs from Pete Kelly's Blues With Ella Fitzgerald 7 9/17/55
The Man I Love 20 9/23/57
Jump for Joy 15 7/14/58
Things Are Swingin’ 16 12/8/58
Beauty and the Beat 19 9/12/59
Latin ala Lee 11 4/11/60
Basin Street East Proudly Presents Miss Peggy Lee 77 9/11/61
Bewitching-Lee! 85 8/25/62
Sugar ‘n’ Spice 40 11/17/62
I'm a Woman 18 3/9/63
Mink Jazz 42 7/27/63
In the Name of Love 97 9/26/54
Pass Me By 145 5/22/65
Big Spender 130 7/30/66
Is That All There Is? 55 12/13/69
Bridge Over Troubled Water 142 6/6/70
Make It With You 194 12/19/70

BibliographyEdit

  • Friedwald, Will. Liner notes for The Best of Peggy Lee: The Capitol Years.
  • Gavin, James. Is That All There Is? – The Strange Life of Peggy Lee. Atria Books, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4516-4168-4
  • Lee, Peggy. Miss Peggy Lee: An Autobiography. Donald I. Fine, 1989. ISBN 978-1-5561-1112-9
  • Oney, Dr. Tish Oney, Peggy Lee: A Century of Song. Rowan & Littlefield, 2020. ISBN 978-1-5381-2847-3
  • Richmond, Peter, Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee. Henry Holt and Company, 2006. ISBN 0-8050-7383-3
  • Strom, Robert. Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle. McFarland Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-7864-1936-9

ReferencesEdit

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