“Her wonderful talent should be studied by all vocalists; her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.” – Frank Sinatra, 1994
May 26, 1920 was the day Norma Deloris Egtsrom was born the seventh of eight children in Jamestown North Dakota, about 100 miles straight west of Fargo. An unlikely place and time for a little girl, singing in the church choir, to become one of the greatest singers of all time.
At age 17, after recognition by numerous influential people, Norma became Peggy Lee in 1937 and moved to Los Angeles. One of those people who recognized her talent was Benny Goodman. Lee toured with Goodman from 1941 to 1943. In 1947, Ms. Lee began recording with Capitol Records and dazzled listeners with “I Don’t Know Enough About You”, “Golden Earrings” the theme song by the movie of the same name. The Paramount Pictures production was a romantic spy film starring Ray Milland and Marlene Dietrich.
It’s likely that the pinnacle of her movie career was when Peggy Lee was with Walt Disney’s cartoon Lady And The Tramp (1954). Lee was a co-writer of many of the songs and was also the voice of four of the cartoon characters: The Siamese cats, Si and Am; the young mother, Darling; and the not so fortunate ex-showdog Peg.
Peggy Lee’s influence on later singers cannot be left out of her resume. Some who acknowledged Lee as an influence in their music careers include Adele, Bette Midler, Diana Krall, Dr John, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello, KD Lang, and Madonna. Perhaps one of the greatest artists to pay homage to Peggy was Paul McCartney who, in 1974, wrote and produced a song for her called ‘Let’s Love’.
There is no question that Peggy Lee’s hypnotic sound is best remembered with her signature song ‘Fever’ which was originally recorded by American R&B singer Little Willie John for his debut album, ‘Fever’ in 1956. Her smoldering lounge version, although slower than the original, was in the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 weeks in 1958. To prove its staying power, the song returned to the charts in 1992.
Is That All There Is?
For those who remember, it was Peggy Lee that also gave voice to the song “Is That All There Is?” as the title song for her album by the same name. Leslie Uggams had the first recording of the song in 1968, but it was Lee who topped the Adult Contemporary charts and hit #11 in the Pop Charts with the help of Randy Newman, the arranger of Lee’s version.
Even today, Peggy Lee’s voice comes front and center in television commercials like Applebee’s Sizzlin’ Entrees which hit the air in the November, 2019.