Peggy Lee

Picture of Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee, born with the name Norma Deloris Egstrom, was a popular vocalist whose career spanned over six decades.  Her unique vocal style, sophisticated persona and beauty helped her stand out from other female singers of the Big Band Era. She also appeared in many films.

Originally from North Dakota, Peggy Lee spent time performing in California nightclubs in the late 1930's. It was during this time that she developed her trademark "sultry purr".  Lee decided to compete with the noisy nightclub crowds in a subtle, softer, singing voice rather than with volume.  She later relocated to Chicago to take a gig at the famed Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel East in Chicago.

It was at the Buttery Room in Chicago, that Peggy Lee was first noticed by Lady Alice Duckworth.  At that time Duckworth was engaged to Benny Goodman and she was very impressed by Peggy's vocals and style. According to Lee, "Benny's then-fiancĂ©e, Lady Alice Duckworth, came into the Buttery, and she was very impressed. So the next evening, she brought Benny in, because they were looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest. And although I didn't know, I was it. He was looking at me strangely, I thought, but it was just his preoccupied way of looking. I thought that he didn't like me at first, but it just was that he was preoccupied with what he was hearing."  Peggy Lee joined Benny Goodman's band in 1941.

In 1942, Lee had her first number-one hit with Goodman's band, "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place" followed in 1943 by "Why Don't You Do Right?", which sold more than one million copies and made her a household name. She also sang with Goodman's orchestra in two Hollywood films, "Stage Door Canteen" and "The Powers Girl".

Video of Peggy Lee performing "Why Don't You Do Right?" with Benny Goodman in 1943

In March 1943, Lee married a guitarist in Goodman's band named Dave Barbour.  This was another significant moment in Peggy's career. Lee said, "David joined Benny's band and there was a ruling that no one should fraternize with the girl singer. But I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play, and so I married him. Benny then fired David, so I quit, too. Benny and I made up, although David didn't play with him anymore. Benny stuck to his rule. I think that's not too bad a rule, but you can't help falling in love with somebody."

...when she left the band in the spring 1943, her intention was to quit the music scene altogether and become Mrs. Barbour, full-time housewife.

"I fell in love with David Barbour," she later recalled. "But 'Why Don't You Do Right' was such a giant hit that I kept getting offers and kept turning them down. And at that time it was a lot of money, but it really didn't matter to me at all. I was very happy. All I wanted was to have a family and cling to my daughter Nicki. Well, they kept talking to me and finally David joined them and said 'You really have too much talent to stay at home and someday you might regret it.'"

Listen to Peggy Lee sing "Somebody Else is Taking My Place" with the Benny Goodman Orchestra

She drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she recorded a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and her husband.

In 1948, Lee joined Perry Como and Jo Stafford to host The Chesterfield Supper Club.  She also appeared frequently on Bing Crosby's radio shows during the late 1940's and early 1950's.

Her relationship with Capitol spanned almost three decades.  For that label, she recorded Black Coffee and had hit singles such as "Lover", "Mister Wonderful" and her very popular version of "Fever".

You can hear Peggy Lee right here on Swing City Radio.

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