Los Angeles, Calif. – Norma Deloris Egstrom, better known to the entertainment world as Peggy Lee, was born on May 26, 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota. After surviving a brutal childhood, she left home at the age of 17 and began her recording career in the early 1940s. Music was her escape from a grim reality.
Over her seven-decade career, Peggy Lee 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, Katy Perry, Debbie Harry, Billie Eilish, Diana Krall, and k.d. lang.
Lee stayed active as a concert performer until 1995, when she gave her final performances at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. In 1998 she suffered a stroke, and on January 21, 2002 she passed away at her home in California.
May 26, 2020 marks the centennial anniversary of this extraordinary artist and her considerable contributions to the world of jazz and popular music. The GRAMMY Museum is thrilled to host the Peggy Lee 100th Birthday Celebration. The artifacts below represent accomplishments from each decade of Peggy Lee’s long, prolific musical life.
1930S: RADIO BEGINNINGS
Norma Deloris Egstrom grew up in North Dakota in the 1930s amidst the Great Depression. She helped take care of her beloved father while suffering abuse by her stepmother. Norma’s earliest exposure to music involved learning to play the piano and listening to the popular big bands of the day on her family’s first radio. Between 1935 and 1936, Egstrom gave some of her earliest performances, participating in one-act play contests organized by her county’s Kiwanis club, singing in her church’s chorus, and joining the glee club at her high school.
Norma Egstrom made her presence known on the radio throughout North Dakota in the 1930s. In 1936, Egstrom joined Lyle “Doc” Haines’ band and made her radio debut on KOVC in Valley City. In 1937, she auditioned for Ken Kennedy, the program director at WDAY in Fargo, the biggest radio station in North Dakota at the time. Kennedy was impressed, gave her a job, and put her on the radio later that day. When Norma Egstrom hit the airwaves that afternoon, Ken Kennedy introduced her by her new name… Peggy Lee.
Click on photos to enlarge and read captions.
1940S: THE SINGER IN THE BAND
Nationwide popularity and chart-hitting success first came to Peggy Lee in 1941 after being hired as the singer in the Benny Goodman Orchestra, one of the most influential swing bands of the era. Lee’s earliest recordings with Goodman’s band exhibited her versatile, expressive voice— something that would become one of her most defining characteristics. In July of 1942, Peggy Lee and the Goodman Band recorded “Why Don’t You Do Right?,” a song Lee had been playing frequently in her dressing room. Their cut became one of the best-known versions of the song and sold over 1 million copies over the years, marking Peggy Lee’s first major hit.
While working with Goodman, Peggy Lee met Dave Barbour, the band’s guitarist and the man who would become her first husband and father to her daughter, Nicki. After Barbour was fired from the band for spending time with Lee, she briefly retired to focus on being a full-time wife and mother. Upon returning to show business, Peggy Lee established her solo career by joining the then-emerging Capitol Records in 1945, where she stayed for 24 years. Before the end of the 1940s, Lee scored over two dozen chart entries, many of which were collaborations with Barbour. Although Lee’s marriage to Barbour only lasted eight years, she considered him the love of her life and greatest musical collaborator.
1950S: FILMS AND “FEVER”
The 1950s were an extremely prolific decade for Peggy Lee. The 1953 Decca Records release, Black Coffee, (and its 1956 expanded re-release) is considered one of Lee’s best albums, as well as one of the top ten vocal albums in jazz history. That same year, Lee landed her first major role in a film, opposite Danny Thomas in The Jazz Singer. Lee contributed an original song to the film—“This Is a Very Special Day”—and delivered a legendary performance of Rodgers and Hart’s “Lover” onscreen. The critical reception of Lee’s performance outshone that of the film itself.
Peggy Lee joined forces with composer Sonny Burke to score and pen lyrics for Walt Disney’s newest animated feature, Lady and the Tramp. Lee also lent her voice to the film, portraying a human, a dog, and two cats. In 1955, actor Jack Webb asked Lee to play an alcoholic saloon singer in his upcoming jazz-centric film, Pete Kelly’s Blues. The challenging role earned Lee an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
At the end of the 1950s, Peggy Lee’s low-key, finger-snapping tune, “Fever,” began to take the world by storm. When nominations for the 1st Annual GRAMMY Awards came out in 1959, “Fever” was nominated for Record Of The Year, Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Arrangement. Although Jack Marshall, the arranger hired for the “Fever” recording session, got credit for the chart, Peggy Lee was the mastermind behind the minimalistic, lounge-y sound that makes “Fever” so unique. Lee’s song, “Alright, Okay, You Win,” earned her another nomination for Best Vocal Performance, Female at the 2nd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Lee attended both GRAMMY Awards ceremonies and celebrated her musical peers.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The centennial celebration of Peggy Lee’s birth—May 26, 1920—continues to be commemorated with new music releases and the airing of an updated documentary. Honoring one of the 20th century’s most important musical influences in the world of jazz and popular music, and in conjunction with UMe/Capitol, the Peggy Lee Estate today announces the digital-only release of The Capitol Transcriptions 1946-1949, and the airing of an updated edition of Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee in partnership with American Public Television.
During the 1940s, Capitol’s Transcription Library Service produced records exclusively for radio airplay and not commercial sale. From 1946-1949, Peggy Lee, backed mostly by a small jazz group, recorded masters for the Capitol Transcription Library Service. The Capitol Transcriptions 1946-1949, a 72-track collection, features 55 songs making their worldwide digital debut and includes two Peggy Lee compositions, “Don’t Be So Mean to Baby” and “I Don’t Know Enough About You.”
Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee, which originally aired in 2004, has been newly updated for the centennial commemoration. The 60-minute PBS program, which will air in select markets in mid-July and premieres in most areas the week of August 29, explores her life and songs as told in her own words, though vintage interviews and performances. Check local listings for air dates and times.
Featuring her biggest hits and most famous signature songs, spanning the 1940s through the 1980s, Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee offers a wealth of extremely rare footage and images, including photographs and home movies. The program also includes commentary by family, friends, and colleagues, including k.d. lang, Quincy Jones, Andy Williams, Nancy Sinatra, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Margaret Whiting, and interviews with Michael Feinstein and Lee’s daughter, Nicki Lee Foster, and her granddaughter, Holly Foster Wells.
Three premiums for the Public Television pledge drive include: Something Wonderful: Peggy Lee Sings the Great American Songbook, a new 2-CD set with dozens of never-before-released recordings from Lee’s radio series and featuring performances with guest songwriters Hoagy Carmichael, Matt Dennis, Frank Loesser and Johnny Mercer; and Peggy Lee, Things Are Swingin’: Her Greatest Songs, an exclusive new DVD featuring a color television special from 1967, plus several previously unavailable bonus performances from each decade from 1940s-1970s, plus a new featurette with Michael Feinstein titled Singing Peggy’s Praises.
This year has already seen the release of Ultimate Peggy Lee, a new 22-track career retrospective that features her hits, five songs she co-wrote, as well as the previously unreleased “Try a Little Tenderness,” which makes its world debut 57 years after it was recorded. This set is among three titles offered during the PBS pledge drive.
Also recently released is Peggy Lee Decca Rarities, a 31-song digital-only collection of artistically and commercially successful recordings over her career with Decca Records. Eleven of the featured tracks were co-composed by Lee, among these are seven songs co-written by Lee and Sonny Burke for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, some of which did not make the final film. Though long associated with Capitol Records, Peggy Lee recorded with Decca for five years (1952-1956).
Born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, she was christened Peggy Lee in 1937 by a local North Dakota deejay. A 13-time Grammy® Award-nominee, Peggy Lee helped redefine what it meant to be a female singer with her captivating voice, which continues to resonate with audiences of all ages. 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.
Best known for such songs as “Is That All There Is?,” “Fever,” “Why Don’t You Do Right,” and “I’m a Woman,” which made her a jazz and pop legend, she recorded over 50 albums and amassed over 100 chart entries. She won the Grammy® for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance for her 1969 hit “Is That All There Is?” In 1995, she received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Coined “the female Frank Sinatra” by Tony Bennett, Lee did something few of her male counterparts ever attempted: she wrote songs. As one of the foremothers of the singer-songwriter school, Lee ranks among the most successful female singer-songwriters in the annals of American popular music. Over her remarkable seven-decade career, singer, songwriter and composer Peggy Lee wrote over 250 songs and recorded over 1,100 masters.
Her vast and varied catalog of compositions have been covered by Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Diana Krall, Queen Latifah, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Janelle Monae, Nina Simone, Regina Spektor and Sarah Vaughan.
- Wherever There’s Me There’s You
- All The Cats Join In
- A Nightingale Can Sing The Blues
- Come Rain or Come Shine
- The Best Man
- If You Were The Only Boy
- Love Doesn’t Grow On Trees
- I Guess I’ll Get The Papers And Go Home
- My Sugar Is So Refined
- I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me
- Lonesome Road
- Them There Eyes
- You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me
- The Glory Of Love
- Melancholy Lullaby
- Taking A Chance On Love
- A Cottage For Sale
- Fools Rush In
- Sometimes I’m Happy
- The Way You Look Tonight
- Love Is Just Around The Corner
- Blue Skies
- I’ve Had My Moments
- Blue Moon
- Don’t Be So Mean To Baby (‘Cause Baby’s Good To You)
- Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man
- Mean To Me
- I’m Confessin’
- I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
- Georgia On My Mind
- Rockin’ Chair
- Swing Low Sweet Chariot
- Just Like A Gypsy
- Somebody Loves Me
- The Lullaby Of Broadway
- In My Solitude
- I Get A Kick Out Of You
- Lover Come Back To Me
- I Don’t Know Enough About You
- Oh, Look At Me Now
- I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
- Someday, Sweetheart
- If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight
- Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
- Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone
- Birth Of The Blues
- Then I’ll Be Happy
- I Only Have Eyes For You
- Back In Your Own Back Yard
- How Long Has This Been Going On
- I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
- As Long As I’m Dreaming
- Swinging On A Star
- Aren’t You Glad You’re You
- Trav’lin’ Light
- Save Your Sorrow For Tomorrow
- Oh! You Crazy Moon
- ‘S Wonderful
- This Can’t Be Love
- You’re Driving Me Crazy
- Goody Goody
- I Ain’t Got Nobody
- Molly Malone
- This Little Piggie
- But Beautiful
- Fine and Dandy
- ‘T Ain’t So, Honey, ‘T Ain’t So
- When A Woman Loves A Man
About Peggy Lee
One of the most important musical influences of the 20th century, Peggy Lee wrote over 250 songs, recorded over 1,100 masters, and had over 100 chart hits throughout her seven-decade career. As one of the world’s first female contemporary singer-songwriters, she co-wrote and sang many of her own hits, most notably “He’s A Tramp” for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp as well as “It’s A Good Day” and “Mañana.” She’s best known for hits “Why Don’t You Do Right?” “Fever,” “I’m A Woman,” and “Is That All There Is?,” for which she won the Grammy® for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance. A 13-time GRAMMY® nominee, she received Lifetime Achievement awards from NARAS, ASCAP and The Society of Singers, was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Pete Kelly’s Blues. For more information about Peggy Lee, visit peggylee.com.
1960S: “IS THAT ALL THERE IS?”
Peggy Lee continued to record at a rapid pace in the 1960s, releasing over 20 albums and 30 singles. Lee was constantly evolving as an artist, embracing new musical styles and working with up-and-coming musicians, conductors, and orchestrators. During this time, she appeared as a special guest on numerous television variety shows hosted by notable entertainers of the day, including Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Williams, and more. As the decade progressed, Lee also hosted her own television specials, accompanied by the orchestras of Sid Feller (1966) and Ralph Carmichael (1967) as well as her own jazz combo, featuring the likes of Mundell Lowe and Toots Thielemans.
Peggy Lee’s nonstop hard work paid off in a big way in 1969. First, National Educational Television made her the subject of a biopic, titled Miss Peggy Lee. The documentary featured interviews and exclusive video access to Lee’s rehearsals and performances—a look behind the curtain at her extraordinary career thus far. Second, Lee released her most successful track since 1958’s “Fever.” Penned by songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller and arranged by Randy Newman at Lee’s request, “Is That All There Is?” was a haunting, philosophical song about disillusionment that resonated with Americans at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. The track earned Peggy Lee three more GRAMMY nominations, including Record Of The Year.
1970S: A GRAMMY WIN… AND A BEATLE
Peggy Lee entered the 1970s with three GRAMMY nominations. The 12th Annual GRAMMY Awards took place on March 11, 1970, and Lee received her first gramophone for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female. The long-awaited win acknowledged Lee’s decades of performing and hit-making, and marked yet another high point in her career.
In June of 1972, Peggy Lee released her final album under Capitol Records. To date, Lee ranks as the female act with the longest stay at the renowned label. Although the album’s title, Norma Deloris Egstrom from Jamestown, North Dakota, suggests a look back at her past, it included all new material.
After leaving Capitol, Lee continued to exhibit her adaptability to modern sounds. In 1974, she co-produced an album with the multi-talented Dave Grusin, titled Let’s Love, whose title track was a collaboration with Paul McCartney, a longtime fan of Lee’s.
1980S: HITTING THE STAGE
In the early 1980s, Peggy Lee kept a busy performance schedule and still found time to try her hand at live theater. During the summer of 1980, Lee was cast in Side By Side By Sondheim—a musical homage to the great Broadway composer—and her performance was met with positive reviews. A few years later, she collaborated with pianist Paul Horner on an autobiographical musical for Broadway, titled Peg.
In 1986, Peggy Lee became the first female recipient of the Songwriters Guild of America’s Aggie and Presidents Awards for her composing skills and support of young songwriters, respectively.
Lee released two more noteworthy albums in the late 1980s: Miss Peggy Lee Sings the Blues (1988) and The Peggy Lee Songbook: There’ll Be Another Spring (1989). Both albums earned nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female at the 31st and 33rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Lee continued to pack performance venues as she approached her seventieth birthday.
1990S: A LIFETIME OF ACHIEVEMENT
In the 1990s, Peggy Lee received a series of honors that celebrated her outstanding career. In 1990, she was presented with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ highest accolade, the Pied Piper Award. Four years later, Lee received the Society of Singers’ Lifetime Achievement Award, and her Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award came shortly after that.
Peggy Lee gave her final performances at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl during the summer of 1995. Towards the end of the decade, Lee’s health began to decline after suffering a debilitating stroke in 1998. In June 1999, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, however, she was physically unable to attend the ceremony and her daughter and granddaughter, Nicki Lee Foster and Holly Foster Wells, accepted the award in-person on her behalf.
2000S: HER LEGACY LIVES ON
Peggy Lee passed away on January 21, 2002 at her home in Los Angeles, California. Dozens of tribute performances celebrating Lee’s musical legacy were held in the years following her passing, including ones at Carnegie Hall’s JVC Jazz Festival and the Hollywood Bowl—the same venues that hosted Lee’s last two performances.
Peggy Lee’s music lives on in almost every facet of pop culture. Beyoncé, the Beastie Boys, Madonna, the Black Eyed Peas, and A$AP Rocky are just a few of the contemporary recording artists who have covered or sampled Lee’s songs, and her hits are often heard in movies and television shows like Mad Men, The Good Place, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In 2017, Lee’s 1949 recording of “Similau (See-Me-Lo)” was the soundtrack for a Samsung cell phone commercial, inspiring thousands of viewers to reach for their Shazam app.
In April 2020, the ASCAP Foundation established the Peggy Lee Songwriter Award to mark her 100th birthday and annually recognize a songwriter who “demonstrates intelligent use of language, talent and career potential.”
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