Peggy Lee

Norma Deloris Egstrom (May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002), known professionally as Peggy Lee, 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. During her career, she wrote music for films, acted, and recorded conceptual record albums that combined poetry and music.

Peggy Lee
Photograph in 1950
Norma Deloris Egstrom

(1920-05-26)May 26, 1920
Jamestown, North Dakota, U.S.
DiedJanuary 21, 2002(2002-01-21) (aged 81)
Bel Air, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeAshes buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, Los Angeles, U.S.
Known for
  • Marvin Olof Egstrom
  • Selma Amelia Anderson
Musical career
OriginValley City, North Dakota
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actress
  • composer
Years active1941–2000
Associated acts

Early life

Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota on May 26, 1920, the seventh of the eight children of Selma Amelia (née Anderson) Egstrom and Marvin Olof Egstrom, a station agent for the Midland Continental Railroad. She and her family were Lutherans.[1] Her father was Swedish-American and her mother was Norwegian-American.[2] After her mother died when Lee was four,[3] her father married Minnie Schaumberg Wiese.[4]

Lee first sang professionally over KOVC radio in Valley City, North Dakota.[5] She later had her own series on a radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her salary in food. Both during and after her high school years, Lee sang for small 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 to Peggy Lee.[6] 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 Bering while working at the Doll House in Palm Springs, California.[7] It was here that she developed her trademark sultry purr, having decided to compete with the noisy crowd with a subtlety performance rather than volume. Bering 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.[8][9]

Recording career

In 1942 Lee had her first No. 1 hit, "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place",[10] followed in 1943 by "Why Don't You Do Right?", which sold more than one 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.[5] Lee 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 she left the band that spring [1943], her intention was to quit the footlights altogether and become Mrs. Barbour, fulltime housewife. It's to Mr. Barbour's credit that he refused to let his wife's singing and composing talent lay dormant for too long. "I fell in love with David Barbour," she recalled. "But 'Why Don't You Do Right' was such a giant hit that I kept getting offers and kept turning them down. And at that time it was a lot of money. But it really didn't matter to me at all. I was very happy. All I wanted was to have a family and cling to the children [daughter Nicki]. Well, they kept talking to me and finally David joined them and said 'You really have too much talent to stay at home and someday you might regret it.'"[11]

She drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she recorded a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including "I Don't Know Enough About You" in 1946 and then "Golden Earings" and "It's a Good Day" in 1947. Her recording of "Golden Earrings", the title song of a 1947 movie, was a hit throughout 1947-1948. With the release of the U.S, No. 1-selling record of 1948, "Mañana", her "retirement" was over. In 1948, Lee's work was part of Capitol's library of electrical transcriptions for radio stations. An ad for Capitol Transcriptions in a trade magazine noted that the transcriptions included "special voice introductions by Peggy."[12]

In 1948 Lee joined vocalists Perry Como and Jo Stafford as a host of the NBC Radio musical program The Chesterfield Supper Club.[13][14] She was a regular on The Jimmy Durante Show and appeared frequently on Bing Crosby's radio shows during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Her relationship with Capitol spanned almost three decades aside from a brief detour (1952–1956) at Decca.[15] For that label she recorded Black Coffee and had hit singles such as "Lover" and "Mister Wonderful".

In 1957, she recorded a popular version of "Fever" by Little Willie John, written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport,[16] to which she added her uncopyrighted lyrics ("Romeo loved Juliet", "Captain Smith and Pocahontas").

Acting career

In 1952, Lee starred opposite Danny Thomas in The Jazz Singer (1952), a remake of the Al Jolson film, The Jazz Singer (1927). She played an alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[17] She provided speaking and singing voices for several characters in the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp (1955), playing the human "Darling", the dog "Peg", and the two Siamese cats, "Si and Am". In 1957, she guest starred on the short-lived variety program The Guy Mitchell Show.

Personal life

Lee was married four times: to guitarist and composer Dave Barbour (1943–1951),[18][19] actor Brad Dexter (1953), actor Dewey Martin (1956–1958), and percussionist Jack Del Rio (1964–1965). All the marriages ended in divorce.

She gave birth to her only child at age 23, a daughter Nicki Lee Foster on November 11, 1943. Nicki's father was her first husband, Dave Barbour.

Peggy Lee was among hundreds of artists whose studio masters were destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[20]


Lee continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes confined to a wheelchair.[21] After years of poor health, she died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack on January 21, 2002, at the age of 81.[22] She was cremated and her ashes were buried at a pool site with a bench-style monument in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[23]

Her daughter Nicki died 13 years after her, on November 14, 2014.

Carnegie Hall tribute

In 2003, "There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee" was held at Carnegie Hall.[24] 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, Maria Muldaur, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Quincy Jones, Shirley Horn, and others. In 2004 Barone brought the event to a sold-out Hollywood Bowl,[25] and then to Chicago's Ravinia Festival, with expanded casts including Maureen McGovern, Jack Jones and Bea Arthur.[26] The Carnegie Hall concert was broadcast on NPR's JazzSet.

Awards and honors

Lee was nominated for twelve 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.

She received the Rough Rider Award from the state of North Dakota, 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.



Lee was a successful songwriter, with songs from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp, for which she supplied the singing and speaking voices of four characters.[27] 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.

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 number one on the Billboard singles chart for nine weeks 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 that usually included standards (often arranged quite differently from the original), her own compositions, and material from young artists.

She wrote the lyrics for the following songs:

  • "I Don't Know Enough About You"
  • "It's a Good Day", composed by Dave Barbour
  • "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'", composed with Duke Ellington
  • "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter"
  • "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)"
  • "Bless You (For the Good That's in You)", composed with Mel Tormé
  • "What More Can a Woman Do?"
  • "Don't Be Mean to Baby"
  • "New York City Ghost", composed with Victor Young
  • "You Was Right, Baby"
  • "Just an Old Love of Mine"
  • "Everything's Movin' Too Fast"
  • "The Shining Sea"
  • "He's a Tramp"
  • "The Siamese Cat Song"
  • "There Will Be Another Spring"
  • "Johnny Guitar", composed with Victor Young
  • "Sans Souci", composed with Sonny Burke
  • "So What's New?"
  • "Don't Smoke in Bed"
  • "I Love Being Here with You"
  • "Happy with the Blues" with Harold Arlen
  • "Where Can I Go Without You?", composed with Victor Young
  • "Things Are Swingin'"
  • "Then Was Then" with Cy Coleman

Film and television


  • The Powers Girl (1943) – Peggy Lee – Goodman Band vocalist (uncredited)
  • Stage Door Canteen (1943) – Benny Goodman Orchestra singer (uncredited)
  • Banquet of Melody (1946, short subject)
  • Jasper in a Jam (1946, short subject) – Harp (voice)
  • Midnight Serenade (1947, short subject) – Peggy Marsh
  • Peggy Lee and the Dave Barbour Quartet (1950, short subject)
  • Mr. Music (1950) – Peggy Lee
  • The Jazz Singer (1952) – Judy Lane
  • Lady and the Tramp (1955) – Darling / Si and Am / Peggy Lee (voice, songwriter)
  • Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) – Rose Hopkins
  • Celebrity Art (1973, short subject)



  • Friedwald, Will. Liner notes for The Best of Peggy Lee: The Capitol Years.
  • Gavin, James. Is That All There Is? – The Strange Life of Peggy Lee. Atria Books, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4516-4168-4
  • Lee, Peggy. Miss Peggy Lee: An Autobiography. Donald I. Fine, 1989. ISBN 978-1-5561-1112-9
  • Richmond, Peter, Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee. Henry Holt and Company, 2006. ISBN 0-8050-7383-3
  • Strom, Robert. Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle. McFarland Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-7864-1936-9


  1. Stevenson, Kate (October 26, 2005). "Miss Peggy Lee". University of Jamestown. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  2. "Nättidningen RÖTTER – för dig som släktforskar! (Släkthistoriskt Forum)". Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  3. Torresen, David (content) and Uy, David (design). "Biography – Current Biography". Retrieved December 15, 2012.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Eriksmoen, Curt (May 13, 2012). "Peggy Lee had a difficult childhood". Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  5. Ciment, James; Russell, Thaddeus (2007). The Home Front Encyclopedia: United States, Britain, and Canada in World Wars I and II. ABC-CLIO. p. 654. ISBN 978-1-57607-849-5. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  6. McMorrow, Merle W. (December 2010). A Long Short Life: The Trials, Tribulations, Travels, and Trivia of an 88 Year Old Kid. Trafford Publishing. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-4269-4938-8. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  7. Richmond, Peter (2007). Fever : the life and music of Miss Peggy Lee (1st Picador ed.). New York: Picador/Henry Holt. ISBN 978-0312426613. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  8. Balliett, Whitney (2006). American Singers: Twenty-Seven Portraits in Song. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-57806-835-7. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  9. Mackin, Tom (June 1, 2008). Brief Encounters: From Einstein to Elvis. AuthorHouse. p. 230. ISBN 978-1-4343-8561-1. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  10. Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 2, side B.
  11. Liner notes written by Will Friedwald to Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman, The Complete Recordings, 1941–1947, Columbia/Legacy, 1999
  12. "Capitol Transcriptions ad" (PDF). Broadcasting. June 28, 1948. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  13. Dunning, John (May 7, 1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press, US. pp. 152—. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved September 3, 2019.
  14. Music As Written. Nielsen Business Media. June 19, 1948. pp. 21–. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
  15. Strom, Robert (2005). Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle. McFarland. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-7864-1936-4. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  16. Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books. p. 56. CN 5585.
  17. Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 18. CN 5585.
  18. "Nicki Lee Barbour Foster, Daughter of Peggy Lee, Dies at 71". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  19. "Nicki Lee Barbour Foster". Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  20. Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  21. Holden, Stephen (August 7, 1992). "Sounds Around Town". The New York Times.
  22. Fordham, John (January 23, 2002). "Obituary: Peggy Lee". Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  23. Gavin, James (November 11, 2014). Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee. Atria Books. pp. 540–. ISBN 978-1-4516-4180-6. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  24. David Torresen (content) and David Uy (design) (June 23, 2003). "There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee". Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  25. David Torresen (content) and David Uy (design). "There'll Be Another Spring: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee". Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  26. Robert L. Daniels (June 24, 2003). "There'll Be Another Spring – A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee". Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  27. "Lady and the Tramp – 50th Anniversary Edition". February 28, 2006.
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