The Cooler Side Of Peggy Lee

Most successful singers are closely identified with a particular song, one that becomes known as their trademark or signature song. Of course, the best of them will have a number of good songs and best-selling records, but there will usually be one that stands out. For Peggy Lee, that song would have to be “Fever.”

At least that’s my opinion. But the iconic singer — who died at age 81 in 2002 — had a lot of hits during her long career. And some of her earlier records actually charted higher than her classic song, even if they aren’t as well remembered now. Songs like “Somebody Else is Taking My Place” and the decidedly non-PC “Mañana” topped the charts but are seldom heard now. Most of us would be more familiar with later hits like “Lover” and her 1969 Grammy winner, “Is That All There Is.”

Born Norma Deloris Egstrom in North Dakota, she was a descendant of Scandinavian immigrants and part of a large family. While growing up, she suffered through a difficult relationship with her step-mother, and by her mid-teens was ready to strike out on her own. She’d taught herself to sing by listening to big band songbirds on the radio, and soon made her debut on the local airwaves.

Over the next few years, she gradually worked her way up from regional radio to bigger markets, eventually spending time in Minneapolis and Chicago. By now calling herself Peggy Lee, she also found her way to California for a brief period but eventually returned to the Midwest, and was singing in Chicago when her big break came in 1941.

Chicago’s own Benny Goodman was a huge star at that time, and when he heard Peggy Lee sing, he decided to offer her the job of replacing his departing vocalist, Helen Forrest. It proved to be a good match, and over the next couple of years she became very popular with fans and sang on some of the band’s biggest hit records, including “Elmer’s Tune” and the hugely popular “Why Don’t You Do Right.” (Video below.)

She also fell for — and married — Goodman’s guitarist, Dave Barbour, which would lead to her surprisingly premature retirement from music in favor of the life of a wife and mother. However, she restarted her career within a couple of years and would continue to perform regularly for the next several decades, sometimes working with her husband or others, sometimes as a solo. She ended up entertaining her many fans with dozens of good songs — some of them ‘feverish’ and others just very, very cool.

Peggy Lee – “Black Coffee”


5 thoughts on “The Cooler Side Of Peggy Lee

  1. Sorry about that. I know you’re a regular and I do value your input but most folks seem to like the new theme. For me, it’s actually MORE readable, so go figure.

    The previous theme was black on white but the font it used was smaller — it was hard for me to read, and I’d had a couple of others say that too. The thing about using these packaged themes is that you only have so much control — for example, I can’t adjust the font size or color in the body text without doing a lot of extra coding.


  2. Do you remember Peggy Lee’s later TV appearances (not the really late ones when she appeared in a wheelchair, but say in the 60s or 70s)? She developed a unique, understated style, betraying no emotion. The camera zoomed in on her face. She’d stare directly into it, and show nothing, simply letting the material speak for itself. In that day of “big band jazz” gone to hell, with everything over the top, the approach took guts and great self-assurance.

    I loved Peggy Lee long before she appeared on “Disneyland” to demonstrate how she wrote and recorded the song for the Siamese cats (“We are Siamese if you please…”) in “Lady and the Tramp.” She was one of my lullaby voices. But watching those later performances I was spellbound. She was a treasure.


  3. Thanks loads for that link–what a wonderful treat! And come to find out “Is That All There Is?” is Lieber-Stoller song–the same team that brought us all those funny Coasters novelty tunes! Who knew???


NOTE: Comments are welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s