Spotlight on ……
Although born in Jamestown, North Dakota, USA, Peggy Lee is of European descent, with both her grandparents being Scandinavian immigrants. Peggy Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in May 1920, and had a difficult childhood. Her mother died when she was just four years old, and when her father remarried she did not have a good relationship with her stepmother.
By the time Lee was fourteen her father was drinking very heavily. Most days he was incapable of going to work, and Lee had to go instead to fulfil his duties at the local railroad depot. Despite these hardships she sang as often as possible, and appeared on a local radio station. It was the manager of this station who suggested she change her name to Peggy Lee.
Following several unsuccessful trips to California, she went to Chicago in an attempt to meet people who could make her a singing star. In California, Lee joined a vocal group called ‘The Four Of Us’ and during one of the groups early engagements band leader Benny Goodman heard her sing. At the time Goodman’s regular singer, Helen Forrest was about to leave the band and Goodman was on the look out for a replacement. In Peggy Lee he had found that replacement.
Lee joined the Benny Goodman Band, and within a short time she was singing at concerts and in the recording studio. She later married Dave Barbour, who played guitar in the Goodman band, where she remained until 1943. When she left, she made several recordings as a solo artist.
In the early 50s Peggy Lee signed to Capitol Records. It was here that she made some of her best and most lasting recordings. Although Lee divorced Barbour in 1952 they maintained a good working relationship and collaborated on many fine tunes during the 50s. Her big hit single in 1958, ‘Fever’, was one such collaboration. In 1953 she released an album called ‘Black Coffee’ which was an enormously successful project, as was ‘Beauty and the Beat’ a few years later.
This was undoubtedly Lee’s most prolific period. As well as being a highly successful recording artist she began to get involved in movies. She performed the title song for ‘Johnny Guitar’, and she wrote several of the songs for ‘Tom Thumb’. In 1953 she had an acting role in ‘The Jazz Singer’ and for her performance in the 1955 film ‘Pete Kelly’s Blues’ she was nominated for an Academy award for ‘Best Supporting Actress’.
However, it was for her work on Walt Disney’s ‘Lady and the Tramp’ that her involvement in films is best known. Lee wrote the song ‘He’s a Tramp’ and provided the voices for several of the characters in the movie
She continued to record during this time, and she had the benefit of being able to record songs written by truly great composers; ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, ‘Smile’, ‘Love and Marriage’ and ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’ to name but a few.
Sadly, since the late 80s Peggy Lee suffered from poor health, and in 1990 she became wheelchair bound and passed away at the age of 81 in 2002.. She will, however, be regarded as one of the very best female vocalists to come out of the 20th Century, and her music will be remembered and played well into the 21st