Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Miss Peggy Lee: There's More!

"Is That All There Is?" - words and music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Trio Music Co., Inc., 1969) [from the Dorothy Starr Collection].

An Associated Press news story published today reminds us of the splendidness that is Peggy Lee. The article, "Peggy Lee takes another turn on the pop charts" by Michael Cidoni, reports that eight years after passing away and in time for her 90th birthday Peggy Lee has returned to the record charts of the United States and Europe.

Peggy Lee was born Norma Jean Egstrom in 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota. She published her autobiography Miss Peggy Lee in 1989 where she writes about her difficult childhood, her discovery by Benny Goodman and the experiences of her life and career. Peter Richmond has written the only other full-length biography of the singer to date with his 2006 book, Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee. Richmond's book both aims to establish her importance and originality as a singer and interpreter and looks deeply into the complexities of her life and personality.

Many jazz critics have weighed in on Peggy Lee's musicianship:

According to Gene Lees: "No singer in American music has shown the ability to play so many different 'characters' in song form as Peggy Lee."

Whitney Balliett writes that "She is a stripped-down singer. She keeps her vibrato spare and her volume low... Peggy Lee sends her feelings down the quiet center of her notes."

According to Henry Pleasants: "No other singer in my experience has asked less of a voice while using it so much. No other has done more with what the voice has given her... And yet, within a precariously narrow range, both of vocal compass and of vocal amplitude, she has mined a wealth and variety of color, inflection, eloquent lyricism and even grandeur hardly matched by any other singer..."

The March 1963 issue of Current Biography states: "[A] perfectionist approach to her programs is typical of Miss Lee. She polishes and perfects aspect of her performances-her special coiffures, her costly wardrobe, her lighting, her entrances and exits, and her musical arrangements... Rejecting the improvisatory approach of most jazz singers, Peggy Lee plans every detail of her delivery in advance, including even the movement of her hands."

In a more recent appraisal, Roy Hemming and David Hajdu write: "Once she's pulled you in, Peggy Lee is able to communicate much more intimately and subtly than singer who belt out tunes the big, broad theatrical style. There she is, nose-to-nose with you... All Peggy Lee needs to do is pause a half-beat on a lyric or bend a note a quarter-tone and she has you intrigued. One of the most hypnotic of all pop singers, she know the power of suggestion."

Peggy Lee songbooks in our collection:

Music Of The Stars. Volume 7, Songs Recorded by Peggy Lee: Rare Jazz and Popular Songs from the American Songbook (Professional Music Institute, 2005).

The Peggy Lee Songbook: 18 of Her Greatest Hits (Hal Leonard, 1997).

Songs For Singers (Denslow Music, 1967).

Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp; Vocal Selections (Walt Disney Music, 1998).

We also have many recordings of Peggy Lee (follow this link) to be found in the AV Center or our branches.


American Singers: Twenty-Seven Portraits in Song by Whitney Balliett (Oxford University Press, 1988).

Current Biography Yearbook (H.W. Wilson Co., 1963), 237-239.

Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop: A New Listener's Guide to The Sounds and Lives of The Top Performers, and Their Recordings, Movies and Videos by Roy Hemming and David Hajdu (Newmarket Press, 1991).

Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee by Peter Richmond (H. Holt, 2006).

The Great American Popular Singers by Henry Pleasants (Simon and Schuster, 1974).

Miss Peggy Lee: An Autobiography (D. Fine, 1989).

Singers and The Song by Gene Lees (Oxford University Press, 1987).

No comments: