Peggy Lee (May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002) was an American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer, and actress in a career spanning six decades. From her beginning as a vocalist on local radio to singing with Benny Goodman's big band, she forged a sophisticated persona, evolving into a multi-faceted artist and performer. She wrote music for films, acted, and created conceptual record albums—encompassing poetry, jazz, chamber pop, and art songs.
Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, the seventh of eight children of Marvin Olof Egstrom, a station agent for the Midland Continental Railroad. Her mother, Selma Amelia (Anderson), died when Lee was four years old. Her father was Swedish American and her mother was Norwegian American.
Lee first sang professionally over KOVC radio in Valley City, North Dakota. She later had her own series on a radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her a "salary" in food. Both during and after her high school years, Lee sang for paltry sums on local radio stations. Radio personality Ken Kennedy, of WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota (the most widely heard station in North Dakota), changed her name from Norma to Peggy Lee. Thereafter, Lee left home and traveled to Los Angeles at the age of 17.
She returned to North Dakota for a tonsillectomy, and later made her way to Chicago for a gig at The Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel East. There, she was noticed by bandleader Benny Goodman. According to Lee, "Benny's then-fiancée, 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." She joined his band in 1941 and stayed for two years.
In 1942 Lee had her first #1 hit, "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place", followed by 1943's "Why Don't You Do Right?" (originally sung by Lil Green), which sold over a million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman's orchestra in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.
In March 1943 Lee married Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Goodman's band. Peggy 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."
Some notes on Lee's Goodman years from: http://www.peggyleediscography.com/Goodman.html
Peggy Lee's Career As Canary With The Benny Goodman Orchestra, 1941-1943Peggy Lee joined The Benny Goodman Orchestra about halfway through August 1941, in Chicago. From July 25 to August 28, 1941, the leader and his band played a month-long engagement at The Sherman Hotel's College Inn - Panther Room. Mindful of the crowds and the publicity hounds, Goodman stayed not at the Sherman but at another hotel with the same management, The Ambassador East. Across the street from the Ambassador East was The Ambassador West and its Buttery Room, where resident thrush Peggy Lee could be heard during evenings.
Also staying at The Ambassador hotels was the soon-to-be Mrs. Benny Goodman (née Alice Hammond, though known then as Lady Alice Duckworth, due to her previous marriage). Soon after seeing Peggy Lee performing at The Buttery Room, Alice Hammond told Goodman to go and see Lee, too. The couple came back together with a party that included the band's young pianist, Mel Powell. Decades later, Lee remembered singing "These Foolish Things" on that evening. While dining with his fiancée and associates, and listening to the singer with a preoccupied look, Goodman was heard to mumble the words "I guess we've got to get somebody for Helen."
On August 1, 1941, Goodman had received a resignation notice from his current canary, Helen Forrest. A very unhappy Forrest was adamant about leaving the band as soon as possible, and stipulated that her resignation was effective immediately. (Or so says the singer, whose autobiography goes at length about her profound dislike of Goodman's personality.) However, Forrest's contract forced her to stay until the end of this engagement, which had barely started. Resistant to doing any further singing under Goodman's leadership, Forrest opted for fulfilling her contractual obligation by attending the concerts at the Sherman, without actively participating in them. She silently sat next to her replacement, Peggy Lee, and to the band's male vocalist, Tommy Taylor. Patrons of course asked why she, a hugely popular canary, was not singing. According to Forrest, the patrons were told that she was suffering from a bad cold, or from laryngitis -- a lie.
Normally, a bandleader in need of a new canary would have held auditions. Goodman certainly did so on many other occasions, but not this time. Granted that he was on the road and thus away from the capitols of the music industry (New York & Hollywood), such a large and musically rich city as Chicago would have still been a viable location to hold auditions. But perhaps the lack of female vocals during the Sherman engagement became an issue in urgent need of a solution. Since the very popular Forrest was no longer willing to sing with the orchestra, the bandleader might have felt that, to appease audience demand, the next best option was to require "sick" Forrest's attendance onstage while simultaneously supplying a vocal replacement, at least for the duration of this engagement.
The next morning after Goodman had come to see her at The Buttery Room, Peggy Lee received a phone call from The King Of Swing himself. He asked her to join the band. On the phone, Goodman asked Lee to show up right away, on the next evening, ready to sing with the band at The Sherman's Panther Room. Such short notice could be taken as a vote of confidence from Goodman, based on what he had just seen her do at the Buttery Room. For Lee, the prospect was a dream come true. She was to perform with an act that she had long admired and which, even more importantly, ranked among the top bands in the nation.
From a professional standpoint, the situation was not an ideal one, however: Lee was being asked to sing without rehearsal, and was expected to handle arrangements in Helen Forrest's key. Unbeknownst to her, Lee would also be facing a sometimes disappointed, sometimes hostile audience, who had come with the expectation of listening to the highly praised stylings of Helen Forrest. To make matters worse, Forrest herself, in the flesh, would be sitting right next to Lee. Not surprisingly, Goodman's new canary was struck with stage fright and with what she later described as a psychosomatic cold. She still went on, performing various songs on that debut evening, including "My Old Flame."
Feeling that she had done a poor job, an embarrassed and tearful Lee asked Goodman to let her go. He refused. (The exact day on which she made her request is unclear. I am inclined to believe that it happened on the first night, or in one of the earliest nights.)
About a week after hiring time, Lee was asked to participate in what became her debut recording session -- and, just a few more days later, on her sophomore session. Those first two sessions (August 15 and 20, 1941) were marred by the singer's high state of anxiety, yet they still produced recordings good enough to be deemed worth releasing.
Despite the (temporarily) adverse reception that the nervous singer met from audiences, critics, band members and even from the sessions' producer (see notes under aforementioned Chicago sessions), Benny Goodman stuck to his guns and took the singer on the road with the band -- at a pay cut -- as they moved from Chicago to the New York - New Jersey area.
In her new East Coast setting, Benny Goodman's new canary flourished in the recording studio and, more gradually, in front of live audiences. (For specifics, see notes under New York sessions, starting with Lee's third recording date, held on September 25, 1941.)
Dating: Peggy Lee's Working Period With Benny Goodman And His OrchestraPeggy Lee worked as the female vocalist of The Benny Goodman Orchestra for over a year and a half (mid-August 1941 to mid-March, 1943). Lee's debut performance with Goodman's band obviously took place some time during the first half of August. The exact day in which Lee joined the band is unknown, but in this section I will attempt to arrive at an approximate estimate. (Also unclear is the date of Lee's final concert with the orchestra; see next section.)
Lee's documented appearances with the band can be traced back to
- Sunday, August 24, 1941. Earliest extant live performance (radio broadcast).
- Friday, August 15, 1941. Debut recording session.
Lee's autobiography does not give any clues about her first date with the band, but the singer's narration of events strongly suggests that it was a live engagement -- not the recording session from August 15. The autobiography also contains a direct quote from pianist Mel Powell in which he declares, in passing, that Lee had spent only one or two days with the band when she went to her debut recording session. It is not clear, however, if this bit is meant to be taken as a precise, accurate bit of information, or as more of a loose estimation on Powell's part.
As previously mentioned, Helen Forrest had given notice of resignation in or around August 1, 1941. Her last recording session with Goodman had taken place in June. Bio-discographer D. Russell Connor elaborates: "Although Helen does not again record with Benny, she continues to appear with him, both in the Sherman [Hotel] and on the House Warming [radio] programs and sustaining broadcasts. According to a program log, she did so as late as August 17, two days after Peggy Lee had made her first record with the band. That is her last logged performance, but she claims Benny had her sit on the bandstand until the end of the Sherman engagement [August 28], but did not permit her to sing. Benny says he does not remember it that way." Forrest is also heard in August 8 and 10 broadcasts from the Sherman.
Since Forrest was still being heard in (presumably live) broadcasts from August 8 and 10, I am inclined to believe that, at least until the 10th, she was the only one female vocalist on the bandstand. (As for the sustaining broadcast from August 17 that features Forrest, no songs are listed in the program log that Russell Connor consulted. The lack of specifics allows for speculation as to the accuracy of the information provided. Could it be that Forrest's name was mistakenly entered when Lee was the female onstage instead? ... Or perchance Forrest was included in the list of names merely because she was present, though no longer singing, whereas Lee was erroneously ommitted? ...)
In my estimation, Lee is likely to have debuted with the band on one of four days, between Monday, August 11 and Thursday, August 14, 1941.
Peggy Lee's Departure From The Benny Goodman OrchestraOver the years, the reasons given for Lee's departure from the Goodman ensemble have varied. After Goodman passed away, Lee more overtly shared what seems to have been the main reason. Goodman had established a strict policy that forbade band members to become romantically involved with the band's canary. Due to that policy, he had fired Lee's then-boyfriend (and soon-to-be-husband) Dave Barbour. His last-known date with the band seems to have taken place in January, or perhaps in February 1943. The couple got married on March 8 of that year. According to discographer D. Russell Connor: "[w]ith her (first) husband, Dave Barbour, out of the band, [Peggy Lee had] given Benny three weeks' notice in March." In a radio broadcast from an unknown March day in 1943, Goodman himself publicly announces that Lee, who sings various numbers during the show, has just gotten married.
According to the unsubstantiated claim of another vocalist whose work also goes back to the big band era, Goodman and Lee had been romantically involved. This claim has no backing, and is also suspect: the singer in question, once friends with Lee, had a falling out with her, and is known to have made this claim years after the falling out. For her part, Peggy Lee always denied that she was ever romantically involved with Goodman. (From the start of Lee's working period with the band, Benny Goodman had been engaged. On March 21, 1942, he married his fiancée, the former Lady Alice Duckworth, who was producer John Hammond's sister.)
Adds bio-discographer D. Russell Connor: "For some 20 months Peggy had been a stalwart performer and the band's foremost popular attraction; now it was time for her to capitalize personally on the public's acceptance." Her last known live performance as The Benny Goodman Orchestra's canary took place on a March 20, 1943 radio broadcast. (See page for Radio Broadcasts with Goodman, once that page opens for viewing.)
That 1943 broadcast was by no means the end of Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman's professional partnership, however. Over the ensuing years, they occasionally performed together on radio, on television, and even jointly in concert. More studio recording work took place as well, though not at Columbia, but at Capitol. (See the 1947 Capitol sessions dated March 28, September 12, and December 2 in this page; see also this page, specifically the note under the ca. June 1944 session that resulted in "Two Silhouettes" and "Johnny Fedora & Alice Blue Bonnet." Search as well for their joint performances in this discography's pages for radio, film, television, and live appearances, once they open for full viewing.) In the autumnal years of their respective careers, they would further be seen in events that paid tribute to either one or the other.
Statistics: Number Of Songs Recorded, As Benny Goodman's Canary, By Peggy LeeThis discographical page lists 32 masters featuring vocals by Peggy Lee, recorded over 18 sessions, between August 1941 and July 1942. Also listed are 58 alternate takes, including 4 to which I have given the special designation secondary master, explained at the bottom of this page.
The number of masters with Peggy Lee's canary vocals would have been substantially higher, had it not been for an industry ban which prevented recording activity during the last third of Lee's employment as Goodman's canary. See explanatory section below.
Not included as entries in this discography are the many breakdowns, also extant, from those 19 sessions. However, I have made mention of them in the Masters notes under each session. I have also made an exception for just one breakdown of "That Did It Marie." Because of its potential interest to Lee fans, I've felt that it deserved to have its own entry in this sessionography. See session dated November 13, 1941.
The AFM Recording BanThe Benny Goodman Orchestra made no studio recordings during Peggy Lee's last eight months as their vocalist (August 1942 - March 1943). Effective August 1, 1942, The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) had declared a ban over recording activity by union musicians.
Exempt from this ban were recordings made for The Armed Radio Forces Service and for film soundtracks. Also exempt from the musicians' ban: solo vocalists. However, in the absence of backing musicians, their companies were reduced to have them do a cappella recordings, or otherwise with foreign or non-unionized musicians.
Though there were no studio recordings, Goodman's and the other orchestras did continue playing -- in concert, on the radio and for films. Thus Lee's vocals from the ban period have been preserved in sources other than studio recordings -- specifically, in live performances that were broadcast over radio, and in a couple of film soundtracks. See this discography's pages for Radio Broadcasts, once those pages open for viewing.
The ban was not officially lifted until November 11, 1944. The industry in general, including Columbia's (Benny Goodman's label at this time) settled with AFM on that date, but a few labels had settled earlier: Decca (on August of 1943) and Capitol (on September of 1943). Capitol's early settlement allowed Peggy Lee to record, on January of 1944, her earliest known post-Goodman recordings. Peggy Lee thus began her transition from band canary to solo vocalist as the ban period neared its end.
Popularity: Peggy In The PollsAfter joining the nationally famous Benny Goodman Orchestra, Peggy Lee's name promptly made an appearance in Downbeat's popularity polls.
In 1941, she debuted at #14 in the twenty-five-slot poll for female singers. Lee had received 114 votes. Among the names below hers were Lee Wiley and Maxine Sullivan (tied with 40 votes, and placing at the very end of the poll, in the #24 and #25 positions), Helen Humes (at #19, with 60 votes), and Jo Stafford (at #23, with 50 votes, and like Lee, also a debuting artist this year). Among those above Lee were Ivie Anderson (# 8), Mildred Bailey (#7), and Dinah Shore (#5). The top four consisted of Anita O'Day (making a huge debut on the poll, with 1670 votes), Billie Holiday (1871 votes), Helen Forrest (2236 votes) and, at the very peak with 3226 votes, Helen O'Connell.
On the following year (1942), Forrest and O'Connell switched places at the top of the Band, Female poll. Forrest had received 2226 votes. O'Day, the poll's highest debut in the previous year, climbed one more spot, causing Holiday to drop to #4. The two other debutants from the previous year shot up to positions #5 (Jo Stafford, with 654 votes) and #6 (Peggy Lee, with 609 votes).
In 1943, the two debutants continued their fast climb: Peggy Lee reached #2 with 2710 votes and Jo Stafford earned the #1 position with 2815 votes. The previous two chart toppers fell to #3 (Helen Forrest, with 2276 votes) and #6 (Helen O'Connell). Anita O'Day and Billie Holiday also dropped one place each, respectively landing at #4 and #5.
Lee's name also appears in Billboard's Collegiate polls, starting with one published on the May 2 1942 edition of the magazine. At #5, her debut in the poll for female vocalists was auspicious, with all other 'debutants' behind her: Anita O'Day (#6), Yvonne King (#8), and Jo Stafford (#9). The magazine also published a gender-blind top 10 that placed her at #8, not too far from more established crooners and canaries such as ray Eberle (#2), Frank Sinatra (#3), Ginny Simms (#6) and Helen Forrest (#7). Helen O'Connell topped both lists.
In 1943, Peggy Lee shot up to #3 in the female collegiate poll, trailing behind just Helen Forrest and Helen O'Connell.
The Frank Sinatra Event And The Rising Popularity Of VocalistsPeggy Lee happened to be present, in the sidelines, during an important event in the history of popular music.
Starting on Wednesday, December 30, 1942, The Benny Goodman Orchestra was the main musical attraction in New York City's Paramount Theatre. The orchestra's canary was, of course, Peggy Lee. The bill also included screenings of the movie Star Spangled Rhythm, and comedy from the team of Moke and Poke, with The Radio Rogues.
Billed as an "extra-added attraction" was Frank Sinatra. At a time when the big bands remained the most popular acts in the nation, he was a burgeoning artist who had left The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra just three months earlier. Encouraged by ever-increasing success as a crooner on radio and record, he had been performing solo at small venues in his native state, New Jersey, and was now making his first major appearance as a solo act in New York.
Unfortunately, there is no extant audio from this Paramount engagement. Moreover, only Sinatra's repertoire is known in full. (Accompanied by Jess Stacy on piano, he sang a thoroughly romantic program: "For Me And My Gal," "Where Or When," "I Had The Craziest Dream," "There Are Such Things," "She's Funny That Way" and "When The Lights Go On Again.") As for the repertoire played by The Benny Goodman Orchestra, few titles are known. The sextet played a version of "Paradise," possibly with a guest vocal by Sinatra. Peggy Lee is said to have sung "Where Or When" and "Why Don't You Do Right?," the former with the sextet and the latter with full orchestra. Lee might or might have not sung other numbers. (At other Goodman engagements during the period of November 1942 to February 1943, Peggy Lee was singing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "That Soldier Of Mine" and "As Time Goes By.") In passing, it should be noted that "Why Don't You Do Right?" was not yet a hit at this point in time. On the contrary, New York audiences were possibly hearing it for the first time. Although recorded some six months earlier, the song had been rescued from oblivion during this very month of December 1942, when The Benny Goodman Orchestra and Peggy Lee had filmed a performance of it for the upcoming movie Stage Door Canteen.
The Paramount engagement became Sinatra's apotheosis as a singer. With the help of his savvy press agent George Evans (who, at this early stage, might have hired teenagers to publicly swoon for the crooner, thereby starting the Bobbysoxers craze), the bill's "added" attraction became not only the main event, but also a nationally touted phenomenon. Initially hired to sing for two weeks, Sinatra's contract was extended for the full month and, when those four weeks were over, the crooner was retained for an additional month. (For his part, Goodman moved on to a pre-scheduled engagement at The Chicago Theatre.)
In her autobiography, Peggy Lee refers to the Paramount events as follows: "the bobby soxers were storming the Paramount Theatre in Times Square. I was there with Benny Goodman. Frank Sinatra was the 'Extra Added Attraction,' and he certainly was! [...] We used to lean out the windows of the dressing room to see the crowds of swooners, like swarms of bees down there in the street, just waiting for the sight of Frank. [...] Everything that led up to Frank's performance seemed not quite so important. Benny played as great as ever, I sang my songs and got some attention, but it was electric when Frank came out on stage. One day I had the flu and became violently ill. [...] That's when Frank discovered I was really having a bad time in my dressing room, and, from that time until I was well, he was my special nurse. First he brought me blankets to stop the shivering. Then, when it was possible, a little tea; later a piece of toast. Meantime, he was out there singing from six to eight shows a day in that huge theatre with the cheering crowds [...] I'll especially never forget what he did for me in the middle of his first great triumph."
This Paramount engagement is generally perceived as a turning point in the history of American music: the moment in which vocalists took over the world of pop music, thereby pushing the big bands down the path to oblivion. Such a perception of the event is a simplification, of course. The process in question had been long in the making, and would still continue to evolve. (For one, other vocalists had been hugely popular before Sinatra -- most notably, Sinatra's own idol, Bing Crosby. The fan swooning that sensationalized this and other Sinatra appearances was nothing new, either. It had been widely reported in the case of matinee idols such as Rudolph Valentino and, from the music world, Russ Columbo.) Ultimately, the Paramount engagement is just a symbolic marker -- though a fascinating and suitably dramatic one.
More fundamental to the vocalists' increase in popularity was the war and its effect on music listening. Brought about by drafting for military service, the separation from loved ones created a nationwide yearning for heartfelt, personalized messages-in-song -- i.e., a demand for the type of intimate singing favored by vocalists such as Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. In Lee's case, her way with ballads came in vogue toward the end of the war, when she became a solo act. No longer hindered by the dance-oriented charts of Goodman's orchestra, she freely sang in the same bluesy, slow and lyrical manner which she had cultivated before she had joined the band, and which Goodman had allowed her to bring only to her two ballads with the sextet ("Where Or When" and "The Way You Look Tonight").
Soooo.......not a full bio of Ms. Lee, this morning. Just the years leading up to her departure from Benny's band. As you've probably guessed by the title of this, today's post involves only the early recordings with Goodman. These, for the most part, are not my favourite recordings by Peggy, but it is a good place to start. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the genesis of her genius :)
My Old Flame-
I See A Million People (But All I Can See Is You)-
How Deep Is The Ocean-
That's The Way It Goes-
Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)-
Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love) 2-
I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)-
My Old Flame-
How Deep Is The Ocean-
Shady Lady Bird-
Somebody Else Is Taking My Place-
Somebody Nobody Loves-
How Long Has This Been Going On-
That Did It, Marie-
Ev'rything I Love-
Not A Care In The World-
Blues In The Night-
Where or when-
On the Sunny Side of the Street-
The Lamp of Memory (Incertidumbre)-
If You Build a Better Mousetrap-
When the Roses Bloom Again-
My Little Cousin-
The Way You Look Tonight-
I Threw a Kiss in the Ocean-
We'll Meet Again-
Full Moon (Noche De Luna)-
There Won't Be a Shortage of Love-
You're Easy to Dance With-
All I Need Is You-
Why Don't You Do Right-Let's Say a Prayer-