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God's Gift of Music: Peggy Lee

The Trailblazing Peggy lee

Video from CBS Sunday Morning

"Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Peggy Lee (1920-2002), known for such hits as "Fever" and "Is That All There Is," demonstrated an alluring command over an audience with her sultry voice and precise stagecraft. Correspondent Mo Rocca talks with biographer Peter Richmond and with Lee's granddaughter, Holly Foster-Wells, about the singer's artistry, and her rise from a painful childhood in North Dakota, to becoming a leading writer and vocalist of jazz, pop and torch songs. (This story was originally broadcast on February 6, 2022.)" from video introduction

If you remember Peggy Lee raise your hand! As a child in the 1960's I remember Peggy Lee on the Ed Sullivan Show among others and I was in awe of her, and I still am! Enjoy! - Andy

Peggy Lee Biography

“Her wonderful talent should be studied by all vocalists; her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.” – Frank Sinatra, 1994

“Music is my life’s breath,” proclaims the epitaph of Norma Deloris Egstrom, better known to the entertainment world by her professional name of Peggy Lee. 2020 marks the centennial anniversary of this extraordinary artist and her considerable contributions to the world of jazz and popular music.

Over her seven-decade career, Peggy Lee helped redefine what it meant to be a female singer, and her quietly captivating voice continues to resonate with audiences of all ages. Born in an era where women struggled for equality – a conversation that continues today – and carrying the burden of years of a traumatic childhood, she was a true pioneer and survivor to her core. What she accomplished as a woman, and as an artist, is nothing short of extraordinary.

She was coined “the female Frank Sinatra” by Tony Bennett, and she considered it one of the highest compliments. But Lee did something few of her male counterparts ever attempted: she wrote songs. Her compositions and recordings – including “It’s A Good Day,” “I Don’t Know Enough About You” and “I Love Being Here With You” – can be heard today in countless television shows and feature films, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Good Place, The Beach Bum, Fear the Walking Dead, Feud: Bette and Joan, and in commercials for Samsung, Applebee’s and Tropicana.

Much like her friend Sinatra, she did things “her way.” She not only wrote many of her own songs, but she was involved in every aspect of her performances, from producing to costume and lighting design. She was a creative powerhouse, directing her life and career on her own terms. She is often cited as an inspiration by strong contemporary female singers including Adele, Madonna, Billie Eilish, Diana Krall (“I love everything about her: her elegance, her wit”), and k.d. lang (“I view her as my finest teacher of vocals”).

Jazz and pop music’s royalty called her one of their own. “If I’m the duke, man, Peggy Lee is the queen,” decreed Duke Ellington, adding, “I consider her as great a musician as Frank Sinatra, who in that world is king.” Sinatra offered his take on the matter: “Peg is just about the best friend a song ever had.” Another royal dictum came courtesy of Count Basie (“…she’s solid.”).

Known for her subtlety, elegance, and alluring tone, Lee saw herself, first and foremost, as a communicator whose primary medium was music. Though she had the ability to belt out a tune, she preferred to deliver a lyric “softly, with feeling.” She had a superior understanding of rhythm, a genius for interpretation and a unique ability to focus on the core essentials of any given song. “The eternal struggle of art is to leave out all but the essentials” became her professional motto of choice.

Norma Deloris Egstrom was born on May 26, 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota, the sixth of seven children. She survived a brutal childhood. Her mother died when she was four years old and her father then married a woman who physically and emotionally abused Norma until she left home at the age of 17. Music was her escape from a grim reality.

Norma began her professional career as an adolescent living in Wimbledon, ND, and traveling on weekends to nearby Valley City, where she made her debut on the radio. In 1937 she was invited to audition for WDAY in Fargo, the biggest radio station in North Dakota at the time. She was hired on the spot, but right before she went on the air, the programming director told her that ‘Norma Egstrom’ had to go and christened her with what would become her new professional name: Peggy Lee.

Nationwide popularity and chart-hitting success first came to her in 1941 after being hired as the singer with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. While working with Goodman, she met Dave Barbour, the band’s guitarist and the man who would become her first husband and father to her daughter, Nicki. When Dave was fired from the band for “fraternizing with the girl singer,” Lee gave notice and – looking forward to becoming a full-time wife and mother – announced that she was retiring. Peggy and Dave were married in 1943, and though the marriage only lasted eight years, she considered him to be the love of her life and greatest musical collaborator.

Lee’s “retirement” didn’t last long either, and she found herself once again behind the microphone. She established her solo career by joining the then-emerging Capitol Records and ranks as the female act with the longest stay at that renowned label, her musical alma mater: 24 years. She also spent five very productive years at Decca Records in the 1950s, and recorded albums with several other major and independent labels starting in the mid-1970s. Throughout, Lee continued to work extensively on television, radio and in concert up until the mid 1990s.

Her vast and varied catalog of songs flourished from such longevity in the music business: she recorded more than 1,100 masters and over 50 original albums. Her total number of radio broadcast performances is over 800, and her television appearances surpass the 200-mark.

Best known for such songs as “Fever,” “Why Don’t You Do Right,” “I’m A Woman” and “Is That All There Is?,” she amassed over 100 chart entries beginning with “I Got It Bad” (1941) and culminating, to date, with the posthumous hit “Similau” (2017). Among the myriad music honors bestowed upon Lee are 13 Grammy® Award nominations, a Grammy® win in 1969, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.." from her website:

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Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee "It's A Grand Night For Singing, How Long Has This Been Going On? & Come Back To Me"

"Peggy Lee "It's A Grand Night For Singing, How Long Has This Been Going On? & Come Back To Me" on The Ed Sullivan Show, November 7, 1965." from video introduction

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