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Peggy Lee's alluring tone, distinctive delivery, breadth of material, and ability to write many of her own songs made her one of the most captivating artists of the vocal era, from her breakthrough on the Benny Goodman hit "Why Don't You Do Right" to her many solo successes, singles including "Mañana," "Lover" and "Fever" that showed her bewitching vocal power, a balance between sultry swing and impeccable musicianship.
Born Norma Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, she suffered the death of her mother at the age of four and endured a difficult stepmother after her father remarried. Given her sense of swing by listening to Count Basie on the radio, she taught herself to sing and made her radio debut at the age of 14. She made the jump to Fargo (where she was christened Peggy Lee), then to Minneapolis and St. Louis to sing with a regional band. Lee twice journeyed to Hollywood to make her fortune, but returned unsuccessful from both trips.
She finally got her big break in 1941, when a vocal group she worked with began appearing at a club in Chicago. While there, she was heard by Benny Goodman, whose regular vocalist Helen Forrest was about to leave his band. Lee recorded with Goodman just a few days later, debuting with the popular "Elmer's Tune" despite a good deal of nerves. That same year, several songs became commercial successes including "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" and "Winter Weather." In 1943, "Why Don't You Do Right" became her first major hit, but she left the Goodman band (and the music industry altogether) later that year after marrying Goodman's guitarist, Dave Barbour.
After just over a year of domestic life, Peggy Lee returned to music, first as part of an all-star jazz album. Then, in late 1945, Capitol signed her to a solo contract and she hit the charts with her first shot, "Waitin' for the Train to Come In." Lee continued to score during the late '40s, with over two dozen chart entries before the end of the decade, including "It's a Good Day," "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)" -- the most popular song of 1948 -- and "I Don't Know Enough About You." Many of her singles were done in conjunction with Barbour, her frequent writing and recording partner.
After moving to Decca in 1952, Peggy Lee scored with the single "Lover" and an LP, Songs From Pete Kelly's Blues recorded with Ella Fitzgerald (both singers also made appearances in the film). She spent only five years at Decca however, before moving back to Capitol. There, she distinguished herself through recording a wide variety of material, including songs -- and occasionally, entire LPs -- influenced by the blues, Latin and cabaret as well as pop. Lee also used many different settings, like an orchestra conducted by none other than Frank Sinatra for 1957's The Man I Love, the George Shearing Quintet for 1959's live appearance Beauty and the Beat, Quincey Jones as arranger and conductor for 1961's If You Go, and arrangements by Benny Carter on 1963's Mink Jazz. Barbour's problems with alcoholism ended their marriage, though they remained good friends until his death in 1965.
Peggy Lee was an early advocate of rock and made a quick transition into rock-oriented material. Given her depth and open mind for great songs no matter the source, it wasn't much of a surprise that she sounded quite comfortable covering the more song-oriented end of late-'60s rock, including great choices by Jimmy Webb, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman, Goffin & King and John Sebastian. She nearly brushed the Top Ten in 1969 with Leiber & Stoller's "Is That All There Is?" She continued recording contemporary material until 1972's Norma Deloris Egstrom From Jamestown, North Dakota brought her back to her roots. It was her last LP for Capitol, however. Lee recorded single LPs for Atlantic, A&M, Polydor UK and DRG before effectively retiring at the beginning of the 1980s. She returned in 1988 with two LPs for Music Masters that revisited her earlier successes. Her last album, Moments Like This, was recorded in 1992 for Chesky. Her voice was effectively silenced after a 1998 stroke, and she died of a heart attack at her Bel Air home in early 2002.
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.
Early life 
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, and his wife Selma Amelia (Anderson) Egstrom. She and her family were Lutherans. Her father was Swedish American and her mother was Norwegian American. Her mother died when Lee was just four years old. Afterward, her father married Min Schaumber, who treated her with great cruelty while her alcoholic father did little to stop it. As a result, she developed her musical talent and took several part-time jobs so that she could be away from home.
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 was noticed by hotel owner Frank Beringin while working at the Doll House in Palm Springs, California. It was here that she developed her trademark, sultry purr – having decided to compete with the noisy crowd with subtlety rather than volume. Beringin offered her a gig at The Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel East in Chicago. 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.
Recording career 
In 1942 Lee had her first No. 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."
When Lee and Barbour left the band, the idea was that he would work in the studios and she would keep house and raise their daughter, Nicki. But she drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the fledgling Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she produced a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including "I Don't Know Enough About You" (1946) and "It's a Good Day" (1947). With the release of the US No. 1-selling record of 1948, "Mañana", her "retirement" was over.
In 1948 Lee joined Perry Como and Jo Stafford as a rotating host of the NBC Radio musical program The Chesterfield Supper Club. She was also a regular on NBC's Jimmy Durante Show and appeared frequently on Bing Crosby's radio shows throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.
She left Capitol for Decca Records in 1952, but returned to Capitol in 1957. She is most famous for her cover version of the Little Willie John hit "Fever" written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport, to which she added her own, uncopyrighted lyrics ("Romeo loved Juliet," "Captain Smith and Pocahontas") and her rendition of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?". Her relationship with the Capitol label spanned almost three decades, aside from her brief but artistically rich detour (1952–1956) at Decca Records, where in 1953 she recorded one of her most acclaimed albums, Black Coffee. While recording for Decca, Lee had hit singles with the songs Lover and Mister Wonderful.
Lee is today internationally recognized for her signature song "Fever". She had a string of successful albums and top 10 hits in three consecutive decades. She is regarded as one of the most influential popular singers of all time, being cited as an influence by diverse artists such as Petula Clark, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Madonna, Shirley Horn, Dusty Springfield and k.d. lang. Lee was also an accomplished actress.
In her 60-year-long career, Peggy was the recipient of three Grammy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award), an Academy Award nomination, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award, the President's Award, the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Living Legacy Award from the Women's International Center. In 1999 Lee was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Lee was a successful songwriter, with songs from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp, for which she also supplied the singing and speaking voices of four characters. Her collaborators included Laurindo Almeida, Harold Arlen, Sonny Burke, Cy Coleman, Duke Ellington, Dave Grusin, Quincy Jones, Francis Lai, Jack Marshall, Johnny Mandel, Marian McPartland, Willard Robison, Lalo Schifrin and Victor Young.
She wrote the lyrics for:
Her first published song was in 1941, "Little Fool". "What More Can a Woman Do?" was recorded by Sarah Vaughan with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)" was no.1 for 9 weeks on the Billboard singles chart in 1948, from the week of March 13 to May 8.
Lee was a mainstay of Capitol Records when rock and roll came onto the American music scene. She was among the first of the "old guard" to recognize this new genre, as seen by her recording music from The Beatles, Randy Newman, Carole King, James Taylor and other up-and-coming songwriters. From 1957 until her final disc for the company in 1972, she produced a steady stream of two or three albums per year which usually included standards (often arranged quite different from the original), her own compositions, and material from young artists.
Acting career 
Lee starred and sang in the hit films The Jazz Singer (1952), Disney's Lady and the Tramp (1955), and Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1952 Lee played opposite Danny Thomas in a remake of the early Al Jolson film The Jazz Singer (1927). In 1955, she played an alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly's Blues, for which she received an Academy Awards nomination. In 1955 Lee did the speaking and singing voices for several characters in Disney's Lady and the Tramp movie: she played the human "Darling" (in the first part of the movie), the dog "Peg", and the two Siamese cats "Si" and "Am". In 1957, Lee guest starred on the short-lived ABC variety program, The Guy Mitchell Show.
In the early 1990s, she retained famed entertainment attorney Neil Papiano to sue Disney for royalties on Lady and the Tramp. Lee's lawsuit claimed that she was due royalties for video tapes, a technology that did not exist when she agreed to write and perform for Disney. Her lawsuit was successful.
Never afraid to fight for what she believed in, Lee passionately insisted that musicians be equitably compensated for their work. Although she realized litigation had taken a toll on her health, Lee often quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson on the topic: "God will not have his work be made manifest by cowards."
She also successfully sued MCA/Decca with the assistance of noted entertainment attorney Cy Godfrey.
Personal life 
Lee was married four times; each marriage ended in divorce:Guitarist and composer Dave Barbour (1943–1951); daughter Nicki Lee Foster (born 1943)Actor Brad Dexter (1953)Actor Dewey Martin (1956–1958)Bandleader and percussionist Jack Del Rio (1964–1965)
Retirement and death 
Lee continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes in a wheelchair. After years of poor health, Lee died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack at age 81. She was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles' Westwood, Los Angeles, California neighborhood. On her marker in a garden setting is inscribed, "Music is my life's breath."
Academy Awards memorial omission 
She was not featured in the memorial tribute during the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony. When her family requested she be featured in the following year's ceremony, the Academy stated they did not honor requests and Lee was omitted because her contribution to film and her legacy were not deemed significant enough, although she had been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Pete Kelly's Blues. Her family pointed out that, although she had been omitted, R&B singer/actress Aaliyah, who died a few months earlier, was included though having been in only one moderately successful film, Romeo Must Die (Queen of the Damned had yet to be released). The Academy provided no comment on the oversight.
Lee was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning Best Contemporary Vocal Performance for her 1969 hit "Is That All There Is?" In 1995 she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lee is a recipient of North Dakota's Rough Rider Award; the Pied Piper Award from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); the Presidents Award, from the Songwriters Guild of America; the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement, from the Society of Singers; and the Living Legacy Award, from the Women's International Center. In 1999 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Carnegie Hall tribute 
In 2003, "There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee" was held at Carnegie Hall. Produced by recording artist Richard Barone, the sold-out event included performances by Cy Coleman, Debbie Harry, Nancy Sinatra, Rita Moreno, Marian McPartland, Chris Connor, Petula Clark, and others. In 2004 Barone brought the event to a sold-out Hollywood Bowl, and then to Chicago's Ravinia Festival, with expanded casts including Maureen McGovern, Jack Jones and Bea Arthur. The Carnegie Hall concert was broadcast on NPR's "Jazz Set".