Friday, June 5, 2009

It's a Good Day—Miss Peggy Lee

Around 1990, when I worked at a weekly newspaper, I liked to listen to a local oldies Am radio station while I designed the layouts. The station, which is now defunct, played American standards and jazz—think Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Peggy Lee (above c. 1956). My dad would listen to a similar oldies station while driving his car, when I was a kid, so that music is very comforting to me.

One day, on a lark, I called the radio station when they announced a trivia question to win a pair of tickets to see Peggy Lee in concert. I don’t remember what the trivia question was, but I won those tickets!

I queried my friends to find someone to accompany me to the show—either they weren’t interested in seeing Peggy Lee, or had previous plans (the Folsom Fair was the same day as the concert). I ended up going to the show by myself, and had to take a bus for about 45 minutes, to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, out in the suburbs of San Francisco.

The bus was running late, and I was worried I would miss the beginning of the show—and there was no warm-up act. I walked into the theater, which was a tiered half-circle with maybe 1000 seats—and it was less than half full. I couldn't believe it—I thought it would be sold out. The audience was a mix: dressed-up older couples, some gay men, a handful of hipster kids, and a couple of drag queens. The band, about 10 or 12 guys, came out on stage and began warming-up. Then the lights dimmed and a male voice boomed over the sound system, “Ladies and gentlemen—Miss Peggy Lee.”

Above: Peggy Lee in her dressing room, before a show, c. 1990.

A spotlight appeared on the side of the stage...and Miss Lee was in a wheel chair, being pushed out to the center of the stage, by an assistant. It was rather surreal—and just a few yards away from where I was sitting. She was wearing a sparkly sequined outfit with her signature platinum wig, and a large sparkly rhinestone decoration (brooch?) on top of her hair...and a huge bunch of balloons fastened to the handles of her wheelchair. She was sparkling like firecracker, and brought the whole theater to life.

She took the microphone and looked out at all of the empty seats and said, “How about everyone squeeze in, and come closer.” So everyone crowded together down in the front section, and she began her first song. I literally had goose bumps hearing this legend perform! Like a good wine, her voice had aged, but was still wonderful—and thousands of times better than many young pop songbirds today.

Above: I'm a woman, with Johnny Cash.

She sang all of her hits and many cover songs: Fever, Manana, I’m a Woman, and my favorite—Is That All There Is? Between songs, she told stories and chatted with the audience, and even allowed the audience to ask questions.

Tony Bennett said, "Peggy Lee was the female Frank Sinatra...she was the epitome of popular jazz singing and a wonderful songwriter as well." Quoted from the Chicago Tribune, 1/23/02

What a performer! This lady with panache entertained us for almost 3 hours, and was so charming, funny and warm. At the time, she was involved in a lawsuit with Disney (they ripped her off for the songwriter royalties for the song, Lady and the Tramp), but still made funny references to the case, without naming names.

k.d. lang said, "She represents an era that is leaving us, one where vocals were king, and I honestly can't think of a better vocalist in that jazz-pop crooning style. What made her so good was that she interpreted and delivered songs with such a complex and dense range of emotions." Quoted from Time magazine, 1/27/02

Peggy Lee was a Gemini, born on May 26, 1920. This elegant and glamorous woman was a singer, songwriter, composer and actress. I can’t even begin to list all of the hits and professional accolades this girl from a small town in North Dakota achieved in her 60-year career.

To learn more about Miss Peggy Lee's amazing life and career, be sure to stop by the official Peggy Lee website, or read a book about this American icon. If you don’t have some Peggy Lee in your music collection, buy a cd today....make yourself a Casanova Cocktail and sit down and listen to it this weekend!

I feel very fortunate that I was able to see this icon perform live in my lifetime. She passed away in 2002. Mr. Peacock salutes this fellow Gemini—Miss Peggy Lee!


Anonymous said...

KABL?!? God, I miss that station...

MJ said...

The Casanova Cocktail will have to wait 'til I complete my work day.

Until then it's "Black Coffee".

Thanks for a wonderful tribute to Miss Lee.

And cheers to you on your special day!

ayem8y said...

Had I been around you would've had a date. I love Peggy Lee. Happy Birthday Mr. Peacock.

Elvis Depressley said...

I got introduced to Peggy Lee by mistake. I was browsing for a gift for a good friend who loved Patsy Cline, and for some reason, I got her confused with Peggy Lee, and I bought Black Coffee for him. Long story short, I ended up keeping the record, and instantly falling in love with her. My favorite song is also "Is that all there is" along with "Don't smoke in bed."

This post brings back good memories, thanks for sharing your story! I never had the privilege to see her perform live, but your story reaffirms what a fantastic and fabulous performer she was.

Heff said...

Happy birthday. Have I seen Peggy Lee naked before, or am I confusing her with someone else ?

Donn Coppens said...

Happy Birthday.

That was a wonderful touching tribute to Peggy...I like what Tony said about her..very interesting. Nowadays anybody can have their voice/pitch perfectly modulated in a studio or live..makes one appreciate how artists like Peggy were unique.

I often wonder how history will deal with our explosion of excess celebrities.I too remember my Dad's era and there seemed to be a finite number that we were allowed to enjoy.

Now it is going into the zillions and how on earth will having a paragraph on Wiki (for those who actually deserve or earned one) compare to a star on Hollywood Boulevard..which they are also throwing at anyone.

I miss having a well ordered celebuverse.

btw: I am also really looking forward to Downey's take on Sherlock he is so fantastic to watch.

TJB said...

Ah, Miss Lee... "the Queen," as Duke Ellington called her (hopefully, out of Dinah Washington's earshot!). She's absolutely peerless. I wish I'd had the brains and the foresight to see her perform in New York during the 1990's; now she's gone. But that Voice! that voice will never die. And never be equaled.

thombeau said...

Peggy Lee is one of my all-time faves. I have most of these albums but never got to see her live. What a great post!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Peacock!

jon said...

my favorite peggy lee song is Sweet Happy Life- happy birthday by the way- fellow gemini here too! (mine is next week)

jezebel said...

What a dreamy night