Peggy Lee

Born 26 May 1920. Died 21 January 2002.

jazz vocalist

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The parallels between music and life.

An eminent Oncologist talks about the parallels between this classic song and his work.

Featured in BBC Music Clips


From the time of her early 1940s hit 'Why Don't You Do Right?' Lee managed to create an individual approach to each and every song. She was born Norma Deloris Egstrom but changed her name to Peggy Lee whilst working as a teenage singer on a local radio station in Fargo, North Dakota.

She had a traumatic upbringing, and moved home frequently, but she began singing around the Jamestown area with Doc Haines' Orchestra, later joining the big bands of Sev Olson and Will Osborne.

While she was singing in a vocal quartet at the Ambassador West in Chicago, Benny Goodman hired her to sing with his band for two years from 1941, recording a string of popular hits including 'I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good' and the chart-topping 'Somebody Else is Taking My Place'.

Her film debut was with Goodman, singing 'Why Don't You Do Right?' in the movie 'Stage Door Canteen' (1943). She married Goodman's guitarist, Dave Barbour, and after a temporary retirement from music, Lee began to produce a sequence of impressive and popular songs, including 'Golden Earrings', 'It's a Good Day' and 'Manana'.

She recorded albums with Nelson Riddle who had successfully backed Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. On screen she made 'Mr Music' (1950), 'The Jazz Singer' (1953), and 'Pete Kelly's Blues' (1955) for which she won an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her alcoholic nightclub singer in the midst of a breakdown. For 'Lady and The Tramp', she wrote several songs in addition to providing voices (sung and spoken) for four cartoon characters.

She had her greatest hit with the world-weary 'Is That All There Is?' From the 1970s onwards her public appearances were interspersed with bouts of illness, and she tended to appear wrapped in scarves and wearing dark glasses. Although she has had no hit records since the 1960s, she remained an influential force on generations of jazz singers until her death in 2002.

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BBC Reviews

  1. Review of Classics and Collectibles

    Classics and Collectibles 2003

    Reviewed by Morag Reavley
    Double-album compilation from the divine Ms Lee.
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