DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
May 8 2008

Marvelous Miss Lee

by David T

Peggy1 Don’t you love using your library to sample authors and artists? There’s nothing like taking a book, or a CD, for a test drive before you purchase your own copy. A couple of years ago, I was on the lookout for a new female vocalist, and checked out The Best of Miss Peggy Lee. From the opening strains of the first song on that CD, “Waiting for the Train to Come In,” I said, “I like this!” Since I tend to like unfamiliar music about as often as Mikey, of TV commercial fame, likes new cereals, this was not a small compliment. Nor is it insignificant, I think, to praise her as one of the most understandable singers I’ve ever heard. I doubt that anyone has ever listened to the lyrics on a Peggy Lee CD and said, “Whud she say?” (Yes, I’m over 40).

Born in 1920, Peggy Lee was that rare singer who was both popular with listeners, and respected by critics. She won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Among her peers who expressed admiration for her work were Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, who said, “Her wonderful talent should be studied by all vocalists; her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.” Her career lasted from her early days with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 1940s through the 1990s, when she sometimes performed from a wheelchair — and still charmed audiences. In her later years,Peggy2_3 she successfully sued Disney for her share of the profits from the video releases of Lady and the Tramp, the hit 1955 animated film for which she contributed not only her vocal but her songwriting skills. (Remember “The Siamese Cat Song”?)

Interest in Lee’s work has only increased in the years since her death in 2002. The first major biography, Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee, by Peter Richmond, was published to critical acclaim in 2006. A more detailed study of her career year-by-year can be found in Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle, a lavishly illustrated volume by devoted fan Robert Strom. There’s also a fact-filled website at www.peggylee.com.

To borrow a phrase from one of her best-remembered songs, “It’s a Good Day” to check out the unforgettable Miss Peggy Lee.

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