Peggy Lee in the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen
|Birth name||Norma Deloris Egstrom|
|Born||May 26, 1920
Jamestown, North Dakota, U.S.
|Died||January 21, 2002 (aged 81)
Bel Air, California, U.S.
|Genres||Traditional pop, jazz|
|Occupations||Singer, actress songwriter|
|Years active||1941–1974 (recording career)
1941–2000 (as a musician)
|Associated acts||Jo Stafford, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney|
Peggy Lee (May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002) was an American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer and actress. From her beginnings as a vocalist on local radio, to singing with Benny Goodman's big band, to forging her own sophisticated persona, Lee evolved into a multi-faceted artist and performer, writing music for films, acting, creating conceptual record albums encompassing poetry, jazz, chamber pop, art songs, and other genres in a career that spanned nearly seven decades.
Lee had Norwegian and Swedish ancestry, and was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, the seventh of eight children of Marvin Egstrom, a station agent for the Midland Continental Railroad. Her mother died when she was four years old. She sang professionally with KOVC radio in Valley City, North Dakota. She later had her own series on a radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her a "salary" in food. Both during and after her high school years Lee sang for paltry sums on local radio stations. Radio personality Ken Kennedy (actual name: Ken Sydness) of WDAY in Fargo (the most widely listened to station in North Dakota) changed her name from Norma to Peggy Lee. Lee left home and traveled to Los Angeles at the age of 17.
She returned to North Dakota for a tonsillectomy and eventually made her way to Chicago for a gig at The Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel West, where she drew the attention of Benny Goodman, the jazz clarinetist and band leader. According to Lee, "Benny's then-fiancé, 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 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 1941 and stayed for two years.
In early 1942, Lee had her first #1 hit, "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place", followed by 1943's "Why Don't You Do Right?" (originally sung by Lil Green), which sold over a million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.
In March 1943, Lee married Dave Barbour, the guitarist in Goodman's band. Peggy 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 Lee and Barbour left the band, the idea was that he would work in the studios and she would keep house and raise their daughter, Nicki. But she drifted back towards songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the fledgling Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she produced 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" (1948). With the release of the smash-hit #1-selling record of 1947, "Mañana," her "retirement" was over.
In 1948, she joined Perry Como and Jo Stafford as one of the rotating hosts of the NBC Radio musical program Chesterfield Supper Club. She was also a regular on NBC's Jimmy Durante Show during the 1938-48 season.
She left Capitol for a few years in the early 1940s, but returned in 1943. She is most famous for her cover version of the Little Willie John hit "Fever", to which she added her own, uncopyrighted lyrics ("Romeo loved Juliet," "Captain Smith and Pocahontas") and her rendition of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?" Her relationship with the Capitol label spanned almost three decades, aside from her brief but artistically rich detour (1952-1956) at Decca Records, where she recorded one of her most acclaimed albums Black Coffee (1956). While recording for Decca, Lee had hit singles with the songs "Lover" and "Mr. Wonderful."
She first came to prominence in the 1940s with her #1 hits Somebody Is Taking Your Place and Mañana, having a string of successful albums and top 10 hits in three consecutive decades. However, Peggy Lee is today internationally recognized for her signature song "Fever". Lee was also an accomplished actress, starring in the hit movies The Jazz Singer, Disney's Lady and the Tramp and Pete Kelly's Blues, for which she received the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Peggy Lee is also widely regarded as one of the most influential jazz vocalists of all time, being cited as a mentor to diverse artists such as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Madonna and Dusty Springfield.
In her 60-year-long career, Peggy was the recipient of three Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, an Academy Award nomination, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award; the Presidents Award, the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Living Legacy Award, from the Women's International Center. In 1999 Peggy Lee was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
She was also known as a songwriter with such hits as the songs from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp, for which she also supplied the singing and speaking voices of four characters. Her other collaborators included 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.
She wrote the lyrics for:
The first song she composed was "Little Fool", published in 1941. "What More Can a Woman Do?" was recorded by Sarah Vaughan with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. "Manana (Is Soon Enough For Me)" was no.1 for 9 weeks on the Billboard singles chart in 1948, from the week of March 13 to May 8. She also added some lyrics ("Romeo loved Juliet", "Captain Smith and Pocahontas") to her signature song, "Fever".
During a time when youths began turning to rock'n'roll, she was one of the mainstays of Capitol recordings. She was the first of the "old guard" to recognize this new genre, as is evident in her recordings of 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 routinely produced a steady stream of two or three albums per year which usually included standards (often arranged in a style quite different from the original), her own compositions, and material from young artists.
Lee also acted in several films. In 1952, she played opposite Danny Thomas in a remake of the early Al Jolson film, The Jazz Singer. In 1955, she played a despondent, alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), for which she was nominated for an Oscar. In 1955, she did the speaking and singing voices for multiple characters in Disney's Lady and the Tramp movie. Specifically, she played the human Darling (in the very beginning), the dog Peg, and the two Siamese cats Si and Am. In 1957, Lee guest starred on the short-lived ABC variety program, The Guy Mitchell Show.
In the early 1990s, she retained famed entertainment attorney Neil Papiano, who, on her behalf, successfully sued Disney for royalties on Lady and the Tramp. Lee's lawsuit claimed that she was due royalties for video tapes, a technology that did not exist when she agreed to write and perform for Disney.
Never afraid to fight for what she believed in, Lee passionately insisted that musicians be equitably compensated for their work. Although she realized litigation had taken a toll on her health, Lee often quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson on the topic: "God's will will not be made manifest by cowards."
She also successfully sued MCA/Decca with the assistance of noted entertainment attorney, Cy Godfrey.
Lee was married four times; each marriage ended in divorce:
She continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes in a wheelchair, and still mesmerized audiences and critics alike. After years of poor health, Lee died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack at the age of 81. She is survived by Nicki Lee Foster, her daughter with Barbour. She is interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles' Westwood neighborhood. On her marker in a garden setting is inscribed, "Music is my life's breath."
She was not featured in Memoriam Tribute during the Academy Awards ceremony. When her family requested she be featured in the following year's ceremony, the Academy stated they did not honor requests and Lee was omitted because her contribution to film and her legacy were not deemed significant enough, although she had been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Pete Kelly's Blues. Her family pointed out that, although she had been omitted, R&B singer/actress Aaliyah, who died a few months earlier, was included though having been in only one moderately successful film, Romeo Must Die (Queen of the Damned had yet to be released). The Academy provided no comment on the oversight.
Lee is a recipient of the state of North Dakota's Roughrider Award; the Pied Piper Award from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); the Presidents Award, from the Songwriters Guild of America; the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement, from the Society of Singers; and the Living Legacy Award, from the Women's International Center. In 1999 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In 2003, "There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee" was held at Carnegie Hall. 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 and many others. In 2004, Barone brought the event to the Hollywood Bowl and Chicago's Ravinia Festival, with expanded casts including Maureen McGovern, Jack Jones, and Bea Arthur. The Carnegie Hall concert was broadcast as on NPR's "Jazz Set."
|Year||Title||Chart Positions |
|US Pop||US AC|
|1941||"I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good"||25||—|
|"Winter Weather" (w/ Art Lund)||24||—|
|"Blues in the Night"||20||—|
|"Somebody Else is Taking My Place"||1||—|
|"My Little Cousin"||14||—|
|"We'll Meet Again"||16||—|
|"The Way You Look Tonight"||21||—|
|1943||"Why Don't You Do Right"||4||—|
|1945||"Waitin' for the Train to Come in"||4||—|
|1946||"I'm Glad I Waited for You"||24||—|
|"I Don't Know Enough About You"||7||—|
|"Linger in My Arms a Little Longer, Baby"||16||—|
|"It's All Over Now"||10||—|
|1947||"It's a Good Day"||16||—|
|"Everything's Moving too Fast"||21||—|
|"Chi-baba, Chi-baba (My Bambino, Go to Sleep)"||10||—|
|"All Dressed up with a Broken Heart"||21||—|
|"For Every Man, There's a Woman"||25||—|
|"Laroo, Laroo, Lili Bolero"||13||—|
|"Talking to Myself About You"||23||—|
|"Don't Smoke in Bed"||22||—|
|"Caramba! It's the Samba"||13||—|
|"Baby, Don't Be Mad at Me"||21||—|
|"Somebody Else is Taking My Place" (re-issue)||30||—|
|"Bubble Loo, Bubble Loo"||23||—|
|1949||"Blum Blum, I Wonder Who I Am"||27||—|
|"Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)"||2||—|
|1950||"The Old Master Painter" (w/ Mel Torme)||9||—|
|"Show Me the Way to Get out of This World"||28||—|
|1951||"(When I Dance with You) I Get Ideas"||14||—|
|1952||"Be Anything (But Be Mine)"||21||—|
|"Watermelon Weather" (w/ Bing Crosby)||28||—|
|"Just One of Those Things"||14||—|
|1953||"Who's Gonna Pay the Check"||22||—|
|"Baubles, Bangles, and Beads"||30||—|
|1954||"Where can I go Without You"||28||—|
|"Let Me Go, Lover"||26||—|
|"Joey, Joey, Joey"||76||—|
|"Light of Love"||63||—|
|1959||"Alright, Okay, You Win"||68||—|
|"Hallelujah, I Love Him So"||77||—|
|1963||"I'm a Woman"||54||—|
|1964||"In the Name of Love"||132||—|
|1965||"Pass Me By"||93||20|
|"You've Got Possibilities"||—||36|
|"So, What's New"||—||20|
|1967||"I Feel it"||—||8|
|"Is That All There is"||11||1|
|"Whistle for Happiness"||—||13|
|"You'll Remember Me"||—||16|
|"One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round"||—||21|