Peggy Lee

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About Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee characterized her vocal appeal better than anyone with the title of her 1953 poetry collection, Softly, With Feeling, but the prolific pop-jazz icon was no shrinking violet—in fact, she insisted on being billed as “Miss Peggy Lee” for most of her career. She embodied everything sultry in her 1958 hit "Fever," radiated existential ennui in her Grammy-winning 1969 version of "Is That All There Is?,” and combined Doris Day's Midwestern glow with Billie Holiday's rhythmic nuance to captivating effect. Lee, born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, in 1920, headed to Los Angeles at 17 with $18 in her pocket. She discovered the power of her subtle purr while singing to noisy rooms out west and, by 1941, in Chicago, where she was scouted by Benny Goodman to replace the formidable Helen Forrest in his renowned swing band. In 1948, however, Lee found her own fame and fortune with a novelty chart-topper she co-wrote, "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)." Lee also penned lyrics for hundreds of other songs, including the sassy feline numbers she sang in Disney's Lady and the Tramp. She never rested: The earthy yet ethereal singer's unflagging flow of releases included an album of blues and a willingness to interpret younger songwriters like The Beatles and Carole King. Also like Holiday before her, she transformed a painful childhood into artistic depth, and even won an Oscar for portraying an alcoholic singer in Pete Kelly's Blues. Across her career, Lee maintained complete control over her image, eventually transforming herself into the glamorously bewigged diva she remained until her death in 2002.

Jamestown, ND, United States
May 26, 1920
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