Peggy Lee

  • Jazz, pop singer and songwriter born Norma Egstrom in 1920 in Jamestown North Dakota. Died in 2002 of a heart attack.
  • As a high school student, Egstrom sang on local radio shows in North Dakota, earning small amounts of money – sometimes, she was paid in food. A radio personality in Fargo changed her name to Peggy Lee. At the age of 17, she moved to Los Angeles to try a career in music.
  • While working in a club, she developed a style that would compete with noisy crowds by using a sultry voice rather than singing loud. A hotel owner watched her perform, and he offered her a job at a nightclub in Chicago. While there, she was discovered by bandleader Benny Goodman, who hired her to sing with his orchestra in 1941. She performed with Goodman for 2 years – 24 singles were recorded and released, with Somebody Else Is Taking My Place reaching #1 on the Hot 100 and Why Don’t You Do Right? peaking at #4. She also sang with Goodman’s orchestra in 2 films in 1943.
  • Lee married one of Goodman’s musicians in 1943 – Goodman had a rule that the band could not fraternize with woman singers, so the musician was fired. Lee then quit the group, intending to be a housewife. By 1947, after turning down numerous offers by record companies, she returned to the business. She signed with Capitol Records, and Golden Earrings peaked at #2, followed by Mañana which topped the chart.
  • From 1949 to 1959, she had 24 singles chart, with Riders In The Sky, The Old Master Painter, and Lover all breaking into the top 10. During this time, she also had an acting career, earning an Academy Award Nomination for her role as the alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelley’s Blues. She starred with Danny Thomas in the remake of The Jazz Singer, and she provided speaking, singing and songwriting parts to Disney’s animated film The Lady and the Tramp.
  • In 1958, she released a cover of Fever, originally done by R&B artist Little Willie John. Lee’s version had major rewrites to the lyrics, adding sections on historical lovers Romeo & Juliet, and Captain Smith & Pocahontas. She sang it with a sultry, sexy delivery that made it famous, becoming one of Lee’s signature song. It was nominated for 3 Grammy awards, and it makes many lists of Great Jazz performances.
  • She remained successful in the 60s. While her singles did not chart as highly as her earlier years, she had 2 songs that became classic signature songs for her. In 1966, she released Big Spender from the musical Sweet Charity. Lee’s version features her usual sultry, sassy style – it reached #9 on the Easy Listening chart. Her final #1 song was released in 1969, Is That All There Is? Again, Lee is masterful in her sultry presentation of the song – only the refrain is sung, while the verses are spoken. It topped the Easy Listening chart and reached #11 on the Hot 100, her last song to make it to that chart. It won her a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance for the song.
  • Over her career, she released 57 albums and 168 singles – her last album was released in 1993. She continued to perform during the 90s despite failing health – some of her performances were from a wheelchair. In 1995, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Watch her perform her Grammy winning Is That All There Is? “Let’s break out the booze!” And…you have to see her perform Fever. Take the time and enjoy!

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