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October 11, 2023 45 mins

There were so many different Peggy Lees: The woman who defined cool in the 1950s with songs like "Fever." The songwriter of hits including the score to "Lady and the Tramp." The icon who inspired Miss Piggy, originally named Miss Piggy Lee. (Yes, really.) But all those Peggy Lees can be traced back to the plains of North Dakota, where she endured a painful upbringing and dreamed big. Mo travels with Lee's granddaughter Holly Foster Wells to her childhood home. You'll also hear from biographer Peter Richmond, and hear previously unreleased material recorded by Lee. 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
And when it was all over, I said to myself.

Speaker 2 (00:06):
That all there is.

Speaker 3 (00:09):
In nineteen seventy, Peggy Lee won a Grammy for Is
That All There Is? A song many heard as an
anthem of on we, but not Peggy.

Speaker 1 (00:24):
She saw it as absolutely life affirming and hopeful that
bad things are going to happen and that you can
rise above them.

Speaker 4 (00:34):
Greg got the boom, stand back.

Speaker 1 (00:38):
And have a ball, celebrate life in spite of all
of this that's happening.

Speaker 3 (00:48):
And Peggy Lee had a lot to celebrate. At fifty,
she was already a legend, an artist of astonishing versatility,
a heartbreaker, anoles spring, a trailblazer, and a master of cool.

Speaker 5 (01:21):
When you put your arms around me, I get a fever.
That's a hard began a fever.

Speaker 3 (01:30):
Musically, how many different Peggy Lees over there? God dozens?

Speaker 4 (01:36):
Watch that bringency?

Speaker 2 (01:38):
How it's blooded.

Speaker 6 (01:39):
When there's platin sugar, there's blues things I swinging, there's jazz,
there's pop.

Speaker 3 (01:51):
Creatively, she seemed utterly unafraid.

Speaker 7 (01:54):
Oh, you want me to do the folks who live
on the hill, so you'll weep. I can do that.
You want me to do black coffee, so you think
it's like, oh, I'm hanging out with junkies at a
kitchen table.

Speaker 1 (02:03):
I can do that.

Speaker 3 (02:04):
Personally, she was more conflicted.

Speaker 4 (02:07):
I never wanted to be a star.

Speaker 8 (02:09):
Yeah, I wanted to sing around the house and the
paint and write and raised babies and those kinds of things.

Speaker 1 (02:19):
She would say that all the time.

Speaker 3 (02:21):
Do you think that was what she wanted?

Speaker 1 (02:22):
I think it was on some level what she wanted, But.

Speaker 3 (02:25):
That compulsion to create, she.

Speaker 1 (02:28):
Couldn't tamp it down.

Speaker 9 (02:30):
There was nobody like her.

Speaker 7 (02:32):
Andre Previn, who was a jazz pianist and played with
all of them, he told me that he thought she
was the best of them all.

Speaker 3 (02:40):
Does she get the respect she deserves today?

Speaker 4 (02:42):
You know?

Speaker 7 (02:44):
And when Sir Andre Previn says to me, she's better
than Ella, because Ella could only do certain things at
which she was the best, but Peggy could do everything.

Speaker 3 (02:52):
That was the curse From CBS Sunday Morning and iHeart
I'm Morocca and this is Mobituaries This moment Peggy Lee,
January twenty first, twenty oh two. The death of cool

I came to Peggy Lee relatively late in life. You
know how kids are drawn to big, bold colors, Well,
growing up, I was drawn to big, bold voices like
bat Banatar, running with the Side, or Broadways, Lori beach
Me belting it out in Annie and Why, and of

course Barbara always Barbara.

Speaker 2 (04:19):
Last Lee.

Speaker 3 (04:23):
But Peggy Lee she was more my father's generation of music.
Wasn't she that woman who sang about the doggie in
the window?

Speaker 4 (04:31):
How much is that dog in the window?

Speaker 3 (04:38):
Sorry? That was Patty Page? And no disrespect to Patty Page.
Her Tennessee Waltz undos me every time. The first time
I really paid any attention to Peggy Lee was well, naturally,
in nineteen ninety seven, when comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out
to ABC's Diane Sawyer and forty million other people in
a nationally televised interview.

Speaker 9 (04:59):
Did you have sexual relations with men?

Speaker 1 (05:01):
I slept with.

Speaker 3 (05:05):
Two men.

Speaker 10 (05:06):

Speaker 1 (05:09):
Didn't like it. Didn't like it.

Speaker 4 (05:13):
That Peggy Lee song Is that all there is?

Speaker 8 (05:15):
That was going over and over my head the first time.

Speaker 4 (05:18):
Just kept singing, is that all there is? My dear?

Speaker 11 (05:21):
Then let's keep dancing, that's what's going I thought, Am
I crazy?

Speaker 8 (05:25):
Because I shouldn't be hearing Peggy Lee right now?

Speaker 3 (05:28):
Of course, when I profiled Ellen in twenty eleven for
CBS Sunday Morning. I had to ask about that. I've
always wanted to know after the interview, when you came out,
did Peggy Lee get in contact with you?

Speaker 5 (05:40):
No, No, she didn't.

Speaker 7 (05:43):
That's a good question, though, But I bet I'm not
the only person who had sex and for the first
time and had that Peggy Lee song.

Speaker 9 (05:53):
Is that all there is in their head? She did?
Is that all there is?

Speaker 3 (05:56):
And you give me fever?

Speaker 9 (05:57):
So something must have changed. She must have switched partners, right,
It's probably true.

Speaker 3 (06:02):
Good. It was then that I started to give Peggy
Lee a real listen, and I came to appreciate the
shades of gray in her voice. She could swing with
the best of them, but she was more likely to
hold back, like she was keeping a secret. Johnnia, who

was this woman? Where did she come from? And that wind,
it's like a rumbling.

Speaker 9 (06:33):
It's powerful, feels like I could blow this house down.

Speaker 3 (06:41):
I met Peggy Lee's granddaughter, Holly Foster Wells, on the
second floor of an old train depot in the tiny
town of Wimbledon, North Dakota. There's no other way to
put it. This place is in the middle of nowhere.
Thirty miles from the big city of Jamestown, North Dakota,
where Peggy was born in nineteen twenty. Today, this train

depot is the Peggy Lee Museum. It's also where Peggy
lived when she was a teenager or standing in her bedroom.

Speaker 1 (07:13):
The first time I came here, and I walked upstairs
and I stood in front of this window, I burst
into tears.

Speaker 3 (07:20):
By the way, Holly really looks like her grandmother, blonde hair, saying,
big bright eyes.

Speaker 1 (07:26):
Even today when we've been talking here, it's like I
feel I feel her here.

Speaker 3 (07:34):
Peggy was still Norma Dolores Eggstrom when she lived here.

Speaker 1 (07:39):
She wouldn't have been Peggy Lee without Norma. She wouldn't
have been Peggy Lee without this heartache.

Speaker 3 (07:46):
And the heartache started early.

Speaker 9 (07:48):
Her mother passed away when she was four.

Speaker 1 (07:51):
It was a traumatic event that I think that was
kind of the beginning of her search, her search for healing.

Speaker 3 (08:03):
Norma adored her father, who was the town's railroad depot manager,
but he was an alcoholic.

Speaker 9 (08:10):
She helped run the depot when her dad wasn't in
a good place.

Speaker 3 (08:16):
Even worse, the woman her father remarried was abusive. Peggy
later claimed her stepmother once beat her over the head
with a cast iron skillet.

Speaker 8 (08:26):
So I went through all that and I learned a
great deal from that.

Speaker 3 (08:30):
That's Peggy talking to CBS much later in nineteen eighty six.

Speaker 10 (08:35):
I learned how I run real that few other things
like that.

Speaker 1 (08:48):
She said she would look out at the railroad tracks
and just imagine where they led. And she said, one day,
I'm gonna leave this place as soon as I know
where those train tracks lead. And it was a it
was a way out. And of course her other way
out was music.

Speaker 3 (09:04):
Now, radio was still a relatively new technology around the
time Norma entered high school in the early nineteen thirties.
Tuning the dials of her Atwater Kent five tube radio receiver,
she fell in love with the voices of Maxine Sullivan.

Speaker 5 (09:21):
Oh you take the high road, Now take the low road,
alb and scottlanderfio.

Speaker 3 (09:27):
A young Louis Armstrong.

Speaker 6 (09:30):
I'm so happy, asking me when this wing that music from?

Speaker 3 (09:37):
And Billie Holiday. Yes, this white girl from the tundra,
who had only ever sung hymns at her Lutheran church
is listening mostly to black artists. But that's the music
that spoke to her. At seventeen, Norma was invited to

audition for the biggest radio station in North Dakota. This
is Wday Fargo, W Day Fargo. That's when program director
Ken Kennedy made a fateful decision. As she later recalled
in a nineteen seventy five interview, the.

Speaker 9 (10:15):
Name Norma Egstrom didn't sound right.

Speaker 4 (10:19):
He said, let's see, you.

Speaker 2 (10:20):
Look like a you look like a Peggy Maggy?

Speaker 9 (10:26):
What Beggy?

Speaker 4 (10:26):
What you need?

Speaker 10 (10:28):
Tried a few names and came up with Lee and
it was That was really how it started.

Speaker 3 (10:33):
She had the Peggy Lee name. The Peggy Lee sound
came two years later, after she made her way to California.
Still unknown, she was singing at the Dollhouse Restaurant in
Palm Springs before a raucous crowd celebrating comedian Jack Benny's birthday.
Biographer Peter Richmond, author of Fever, The Life and Music

of Miss Peggy Lee, describes the scene.

Speaker 7 (10:58):
People are just laughing, and so she's getting pissed off.
And she's only like nineteen, and she's singing in a
good club in front of celebrities.

Speaker 3 (11:06):
She's pissed. And that's when Peggy decided if she couldn't
sing over them, she'd sing under them.

Speaker 7 (11:14):
So she starts singing softer and softer, until people start
getting quiet because they can't hear her singing. And now
they're listening, and now they're captured. That's when she understood
volume wasn't going to be the thing. Nuance was going
to be the thing.

Speaker 2 (11:32):
Moms like this make me through, though, And.

Speaker 3 (11:39):
Though now there's no recording from that evening, but here
she is decades later, casting a similar spell over the
crowd at Manhattan's Basin Street East Club.

Speaker 7 (11:52):
She knew that the more she could get the room silent,
the more she's got them.

Speaker 1 (11:57):
No, she said, the challenges to leave out all but
the essentials.

Speaker 3 (12:09):
Peggy would cultivate a style that was as minimalist as
the landscape she'd grown up in, cool but never cold.
While singing in Chicago in nineteen forty one, Peggy was
discovered by the king of swing, Benny Goodman, one of
the era's biggest bandleaders. Now, Goodman didn't much respect his

so called girl singers, and Peggy was intimidated by the
famously perfectionist Goodman. But when he noticed the twenty one
year old Peggy carrying around a prized possession a record
of blues singer Lil Green's why Don't You Do Right?
He was intrigued you.

Speaker 2 (12:53):
Had many money. In nineteen.

Speaker 3 (12:58):
Goodman decided to let Peggy record her own version, and
it became her first hit.

Speaker 4 (13:04):
Lea the Wama make a who Love You? Why don't
You Do Right?

Speaker 7 (13:09):
She doesn't even have to worry about finding the rhythm
from the drummer or the bass player or Benny.

Speaker 3 (13:15):
They're following her rhythm.

Speaker 5 (13:17):
Get out of here and get me.

Speaker 4 (13:20):
The money too.

Speaker 3 (13:24):
It was while touring with Benny Goodman that Peggy, often
the only woman on the bus, met guitarist Dave Barber
and the two struck up a romance that didn't go
over well with Goodman, though, and Barbara was fired from
the band for quote unquote fraternizing with the girl singer.
But Peggy liked Dave, I mean, she really liked him,

and so she quit. She married Dave Barber and gave
birth to their daughter, Nikki later that year.

Speaker 1 (13:54):
They had such chemistry together that was the love of
her life.

Speaker 3 (14:01):
There's this duet they wrote and recorded together called I
Don't Know Enough About You. They filmed the performance sort
of an early music video.

Speaker 4 (14:10):
I know a little bit about a lot.

Speaker 5 (14:14):
Of things, but I don't know enough about.

Speaker 3 (14:18):
Peggy is playing a teacher, sitting at a desk, fiddling
with a pair of glasses. She looks so healthy, happy
and gorgeous. Dave Barber sits off to the side, strumming
his guitar. These are two people so at ease with
each other that the picture of contentment.

Speaker 5 (14:36):
You get me in a fish Oh.

Speaker 1 (14:39):
A new arman.

Speaker 3 (14:41):
I don't know, but Dave, like Peggy's father, had a
drinking problem, and as Peggy's star rose, Dave's drinking only
got worse and it.

Speaker 1 (14:52):
Broke her heart. But just as she always has done,
it fueled her music.

Speaker 5 (14:58):
Gazza, don't enough of that.

Speaker 3 (15:05):
After eight years of marriage, Dave Barber and Peggy Lee
filed for divorce. Coming up personally, Peggy takes on the
nineteen fifties as a single mother. Artistically, she ends up
owning the decade.

Speaker 7 (15:34):
Person two Persons with Charles Collingwood.

Speaker 3 (15:41):
In nineteen sixty, cameras from the CBS TV interview series
Person to Person visited Peggy Lee at her sprawling Beverly
Hills mansion, also known as the Peach Palace.

Speaker 12 (15:53):
Well, now you've achieved quite a few goals up and
now what was your main goal as a youngster in Jamestown,
North Dakota.

Speaker 9 (16:01):
Well, Charles, I had two goals really.

Speaker 10 (16:05):
One was to be a successful singer, and the other
was to have a family. And I've been very happy
about having some success, and I have a wonderful daughter.
And of course as I have gone along, I picked
up a few more goals. I think it's good to

have a goal, don't you, Charles.

Speaker 3 (16:28):
I think it is now. When Peggy says she'd had
some success, that's an understatement. In just the previous decade,
she had achieved more than most artists could hope to
in a lifetime. In this act, we're going to talk
about what made Peggy Lee one of the most important
musical artists of the nineteen fifties.

Speaker 5 (16:50):
Yeah, it's a good day far sanging a song, and
it's a good.

Speaker 3 (16:56):
Day for one thing. She was a prolific singer songwriter,
a rarity for women back then. She co wrote It's
a Good Day with Dave Barber. Peggy was always writing
back in North Dakota. She wrote poetry and ultimately she
had credits on more than two hundred and fifty songs,

sad songs.

Speaker 2 (17:22):
Was then and no no.

Speaker 3 (17:29):
Happy Songs.

Speaker 4 (17:30):
I Dance by Fred Astaire and Brando's Eyes.

Speaker 5 (17:36):
You're Runner's Hair, but I think to tell you is
only there that I love it with you?

Speaker 3 (17:46):
And a certain Disney classic, What a Dog.

Speaker 9 (17:52):
As a kid?

Speaker 3 (17:52):
Was it really cool for you that your grandmother was
part of Lady in the Tramp.

Speaker 9 (17:58):
So that's how my friend knew of her.

Speaker 3 (18:01):
That's Peggy's granddaughter, Holly foster Wells. Again, Peggy co wrote
the score to Lady in the Tramp. But that's not
all she did on the movie.

Speaker 1 (18:10):
She's the voice of the Siamese Cats. She's Darling the Mother,
She's Peg in the Dog Pound.

Speaker 2 (18:15):
He's a child.

Speaker 1 (18:18):
I love him, Yes, he love have got it pretty bad.
My grandmother had a film projector in her house and
she would take out that film every year and we
would watch it in the living room sidebar.

Speaker 3 (18:34):
That same year, nineteen fifty five, Peggy scored an OSCAR
nomination playing an alcoholic saloon singer in the film Pete
Kelly's Blues. This is a sidebar because well, we don't
have time to get into all the things that Peggy
did in the nineteen fifties, blame her for being so
productive now. In addition to all the songs Peggy wrote,

they are the ones she all but rewrote. Peggy covered
a lot of popular songs, often breathing new life into them.
She took the song Heart from the Broadway show Damn Yankees.

Speaker 2 (19:09):
You Gotta Have.

Speaker 3 (19:12):
All, and gave it a Latin beat, You Gotta. She
took the song lover a Waltz from the Rogers and
Heart musical Love Me Tonight, Speak My Name, and well

listen to what she did to that. She takes that
and turns it into something kind of wild.

Speaker 7 (19:51):
Her final notes have been likened to an orgasm.

Speaker 3 (20:03):
And in nineteen fifty eight, she took the song Fever,
originally recorded by R and B singer Little Willie John.

Speaker 8 (20:11):
You never know how much love, never know how much
I care.

Speaker 3 (20:18):
And gave it a new, stripped down arrangement, just bass
drums and finger snaps.

Speaker 4 (20:26):
Never know how much I love you.

Speaker 7 (20:29):
She's keeping so much in If this is the only
thing to signal what you're singing about, that's powerful.

Speaker 5 (20:37):
When you put your arms around me, I gave a fever.

Speaker 4 (20:41):
That's a hard thing you give.

Speaker 3 (20:43):
Me It became the biggest hit of her career. That
sequence in the middle that sounds almost like beat poetry.

Speaker 4 (20:52):
Roam me O loved Julia.

Speaker 3 (20:55):
Peggy wrote that.

Speaker 5 (20:59):
When he rounder, he said, Julivy, you my fame.

Speaker 4 (21:04):
Now give us fever.

Speaker 3 (21:07):
Also listen to the way she delivers those lines. Peggy
had been blurring the line between talking and singing as
far back as her Benny Goodman days. Here she is
on Coal Porters, Let's do It back in nineteen forty one.

Speaker 5 (21:21):
Up Leland, little lapts, do it well, Let's do it,
Let's fall in.

Speaker 3 (21:30):
The way she just tosses off the words let's do it.
Peggy came up with that. Now. Fever may have been
Peggy's biggest commercial success, but her artistic apex came with
the release of the album Black Coffee.

Speaker 7 (21:49):
You can really feel her coming into the kitchen after
a long night and just looking at the coffee and saying, Wow,
it was worth it last night, but I gotta have
that now.

Speaker 3 (22:01):
Here She is on the album's title track.

Speaker 4 (22:04):
Black Coffee Loves a hand Mawnbreu.

Speaker 3 (22:13):
Black Coffee was one of the very first concept albums
ever recorded. It's about a woman's lonesome experience being in
love with a man she can't trust. The Milestone record
is now considered one of the best vocal albums in
jazz history.

Speaker 7 (22:30):
She becomes Cool in that album.

Speaker 3 (22:33):
Black Coffee also cemented Lee's status as the high priestess
of pop jazz, acclaimed by critics and the masses alike.
Could Peggy Lee have only happened at the time that
she did.

Speaker 9 (22:47):

Speaker 3 (22:48):
Biographer Peter Richmond says Peggy was peaking just as black
and white musical traditions were intermingling in the mainstream.

Speaker 7 (22:57):
Peggy was able to incorporate so many different rhythms and emotions.
And she was, and I really think I can say this,
she was unique. There was nobody like her.

Speaker 3 (23:08):
Later in her career, Peggy told one writer quote, I'm
not really a white singer. I sing black. I always have.

Speaker 9 (23:17):

Speaker 3 (23:17):
When Peggy made that comment in nineteen seventy four, it
had to have rankled many, just as it certainly would today.
There's a terrific essay about Peggy Lee written by culture
critic Gerald Early. He's a professor of English and African
American studies at Washington University in Saint Louis. Early writes
about the profoundly uneasy history of white performers emulating a

black sound, from Louis Prima to Elvis to eminem. Peggy,
he points out, didn't just emulate black singers. She literally
and famously would imitate Billie Holliday.

Speaker 4 (23:57):
I love you first time. I love to them. You
got a certain and acute way of friendly.

Speaker 8 (24:09):
So what was that about? Was she a big fan
of Billie Holidays. She was a huge fan of Billy Holidays.
She absolutely loved her music. And I heard that Billie Holiday. Well,
wasn't so crazy about my grandmother because I heard that
she felt like, not just my grandmother, but other people

too copied her. But as my grandmother's voice matured in
her career developed, you don't hear anybody but Peggy Lee.

Speaker 3 (24:40):
Gerald early in that essay seems to agree that Peggy
was an original. He writes that she invented the hip
white female vocalist. He describes Peggy's imitation of Billy Holliday
as more than quote some sort of lame white girl
imitation of the great black jazz singer. It was an

expression of how accomplished Lee was as a jazz singer
and how much she respected holiday end quote. Peggy Lee
had deep bonds with black artists throughout her career. She
was an early champion and friend of Ray Charles. When
one of her childhood idols, Louis Armstrong, died in nineteen

seventy one, it was Peggy Lee who was invited to
sing the Lord's Prayer at his funeral, for.

Speaker 2 (25:28):
That is the King and the Poe and the Blood.

Speaker 3 (25:40):
And when CBS aired a star studded tribute to Duke
Ellington produced by Quincy Jones, Peggy Lee was the only
white solo artist featured, alongside Sarah Vaughan, ROBERTA. Flack, and
Aretha Franklin. If I'm the Duke Ellington once said, Peggy
Lee is Queen. Peggy had earned that title in the

nineteen fifties. She was no longer just a big band
singer Benny Goodman's Canary. Critically and commercially, she was an
artist of the highest order, on a par with Frank Sinatra.
But for all the hit songs she'd recorded, the one
that was closest to her heart wasn't one she'd written

or radically reimagined.

Speaker 5 (26:28):
Someday We'll build a home on a hill top.

Speaker 11 (26:38):
You and I.

Speaker 9 (26:41):
Shine so the folks who live on the hill.

Speaker 1 (26:44):
That's her very favorite song, and I think it just
paints this picture of an idyllic relationship and growing old
together and always having that soulmate by her side.

Speaker 3 (26:57):
Peggy recorded it in nineteen fifty seven. The song was
written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein twenty years earlier
as a romantic reverie.

Speaker 4 (27:07):
We will Whiz because.

Speaker 3 (27:11):
But Peggy's version is different. She's singing about something that
was never to be on that trumpet.

Speaker 7 (27:21):
It's just so plaintive, the mournfulness of wishing a house
on the hill that will never be yours and really
doesn't exist.

Speaker 1 (27:30):
And that's what she really wanted. So she hoped to
have with my grandfather. And she married three more times
after that, But it was not those were she called
those costume parties. Actually, well, I think she didn't think
they were real. They weren't real love affairs. She certainly
fell in love with many people throughout the years. I

just think maybe it was too much for these men
to be mister Peggy Lee. And and I don't know
that any man could have really given her the love
that she wanted. The closest she got to getting that love,
I think was from the audience.

Speaker 3 (28:14):
On the other side of the break. Miss Peggy Lee
the icon.

Speaker 11 (28:39):
Well, I can scoop up a great, big difference full
of lag from the dripping skin and look in the skill,
go out and do my shopping and be back to forth.

Speaker 3 (28:53):
By the nineteen seventies, Peggy Lee had become Miss Peggy Lee,
a bona fide icon, even inspired the Muppets character Miss Piggy,
originally named Miss Piggy Lee, the.

Speaker 11 (29:06):
Baby greased the car and pot of my face all
at the same time.

Speaker 1 (29:10):
She thought that was pretty fantastic. I mean that pig
is glamorous.

Speaker 3 (29:15):
Miss Peggy is the is the paragon of glamour.

Speaker 9 (29:18):
Right, and she's a diva. And my grandma was a diva.

Speaker 3 (29:22):
So growing up in that era, Holly Foster Wells spent
summers touring with her grandmother, beginning when she was just six,
and frankly, I'm kind of jealous.

Speaker 9 (29:35):
So you would go on the road with her, Yeah,
tell me about that. She would take me all over
the world.

Speaker 1 (29:41):
I would dress up in her gowns and we would
have breakfast in bed. We'd watch soap operas, and then
it would be time to get ready for the show.
Then we had to get serious because that was a
process of becoming miss Peggy Lee.

Speaker 9 (29:56):
Yeah, it was. It was like a four hour process.
And she starts first with a bubble bath, and then
the makeup, and then the hair and the gowns.

Speaker 3 (30:05):
There's a great story about a fan meeting her grandmother
in an elevator on the day of one of her shows.

Speaker 1 (30:11):
She had a scarf and she had curlers and sunglasses
and someone looked at her and said, are you Peggy Lee?

Speaker 9 (30:18):
And she said not yet.

Speaker 3 (30:21):
Now, we've talked plenty about Peggy as a recording artist,
but we haven't really touched on her as a live performer.

Speaker 9 (30:28):
I would just be in awe of what she could do.

Speaker 1 (30:32):
And I would see grown men crying, and I would
see couples holding hands and people. You could hear a
pin drop and this was really mesmerizing.

Speaker 2 (30:43):
See sid.

Speaker 3 (30:49):
See what there's a tape of her singing CC Rider.
Oh yeah, it's a hypnotic.

Speaker 9 (30:57):
I know exactly what performance that is.

Speaker 1 (30:59):
And she early moves like she just moves a little
shoulder and just her face and it's so sexy.

Speaker 3 (31:09):
That performance was at Bason Street East. We mentioned it earlier,
a legendary Manhattan nightclub that no longer exists. Now, I
can tell you that if I could get in a
time machine and go back and near her live, I
would choose to go back to Basin Street East, the
club in New York City where she really triumphed.

Speaker 1 (31:31):
Right, absolutely, And if I could go back into time machine,
that's when I would go back.

Speaker 3 (31:35):
Because you're my plus one or I'm your plus one exactly.
We don't have a time machine. But luckily Peggy recorded
everything on real to reel tapes from sessions with her musicians.

Speaker 4 (31:47):
Because one thing isn't very.

Speaker 3 (31:49):
Clear, to sessions with her psychic how many.

Speaker 1 (31:58):
Times have you been married?

Speaker 8 (32:00):
Well, married once and sort of married three times, so.

Speaker 3 (32:05):
It's four, right and lucky us. Holly has agreed to
play some of those recordings, including a behind the scenes
moment with Peggy and one of her favorite artists.

Speaker 1 (32:17):
Well, my grandmother loved the music of Ray Charles. He
pitched to her a song he'd written called tell all
the World about You.

Speaker 2 (32:26):
You're so fun and you're so sweet.

Speaker 5 (32:30):
How's going on?

Speaker 2 (32:32):
You're so sweet, You're so fun?

Speaker 5 (32:36):
Oh my goodness, I can't even remember my own thing
I gotta do.

Speaker 1 (32:42):
And then she actually went in and recorded it. She
put her own spin on it.

Speaker 5 (32:46):
You're so fun and you're so sweet, you can love Anuskin.

Speaker 4 (32:54):
Talk about.

Speaker 3 (33:01):
Peggy's home recordings also capture her goofing around with family.

Speaker 1 (33:06):
So my grandmother was rehearsing at home, and my dad
and my mom and my brother were watching her rehearsal,
and then in the middle of it, she just decides
to bring out balloons and start sucking helium.

Speaker 12 (33:19):
Ya lasa One'm from a lasa, Run for maball, run
for a little living and lung.

Speaker 3 (33:31):
Yes, that's Peggy Lee singing on helium.

Speaker 12 (33:34):
Ba bay every well, Yes, yeah, yese hey begs.

Speaker 3 (33:43):
By the early nineteen eighties, Peggy was thinking seriously about legacy.
In nineteen eighty one, the great Lena Horn had had
a smash hit with her own one woman Broadway show.
Now it was Peggy's turn, as the sixty three year
old discussed with NBC's Gene Shallett in nineteen eighty three, Peggy.

Speaker 10 (34:04):
You've got a new show coming on Broadway called Peg, Right,
so I want to know about that. Well, it's called
Peg because it's about my life, and.

Speaker 1 (34:16):
I wrote it, and.

Speaker 10 (34:20):
I started writing this for someone else to play. I mean,
there was going to be a show about you, but
someone else would play your life?

Speaker 3 (34:28):
Yes, that chance? I mean, who else was going to
play Peggy Peg was a musical, of course, with original songs,
mostly co written by Peggy. It opened on December fourteenth,
nineteen eighty three. It closed three days later.

Speaker 1 (34:45):
It was one of I would say, her greatest failures
actually in her career. She was really, really just devastated.
It felt like a rejection of her life.

Speaker 3 (34:56):
Because the show was autobiographical, it was a better life.

Speaker 1 (34:59):
But and quite frankly, some people felt it was too depressing.

Speaker 3 (35:03):
There was one song about Peggy's stepmother beating her. It
was an up tempo song.

Speaker 5 (35:09):
For eleven years, there was at least one beating a day,
one leading a they.

Speaker 2 (35:20):
For eleven years.

Speaker 4 (35:22):
There was at least one beating a day, so.

Speaker 3 (35:27):
Many do you remember how the audience in the Broadway
theater reacted to that?

Speaker 1 (35:32):
That was an awkward moment in the show because people
didn't know if they should laugh or cry. It was confusing.

Speaker 3 (35:41):
In The New York Times, Frank Rich wrote, for those
who respect Peggy Lee as a vocalist, but who don't
worship her as a public personality. Peg may seem bizarre,
and that was one of the nicer things written about it.
And I can imagine that the reaction to that probably
really shook her and made her think, have I just
lost my touch?

Speaker 1 (36:01):
I remember her being defensive, like, this is my life,
Like wait, I'm so sorry if this is sad for
you or hard for you, but this is my life,
Like I'm just telling you what I went through. And
if it's hard for you to hear about, think about
how it was to live it.

Speaker 3 (36:15):
And away from Broadway, Peggy Lee's live performances weren't hitting
like they used.

Speaker 1 (36:21):
To, so she aged, but these songs didn't age with her,
so she sometimes would approach them in a campy way.
And I don't know that that how that resonated with audiences,
if they liked it or not.

Speaker 3 (36:36):
With her oversized sunglasses and outlandish wigs and kaftans, Peggy
was becoming a punchline.

Speaker 1 (36:44):
I would be backstage with her and during intermission she
would want me to give her honest feedback about what
people were thinking in the audience, and she'd go on stage.
I'd run out watch the show, and I'd even go
and listen in the ladies room what people were saying.
And there came a time when I didn't want to

tell her those comments anymore because people were really critical, like, oh,
she sounds good, but she doesn't have the voice that
she used to have, or while she's gained weight, or wow,
or you know, people are really they come in with
their own expectations.

Speaker 3 (37:19):
There were things that were hard for you to hear
and write, and hard to report back.

Speaker 1 (37:24):
Right and things. So I didn't want to tell her,
you know, it was hard.

Speaker 3 (37:34):
By this point, Peggy's health was failing, in part due
to exhaustion.

Speaker 1 (37:40):
She really never took a vacation. She would write about
places like Paris, but she wouldn't go there. She didn't
go there and slow down.

Speaker 3 (37:48):
After a bad case of pneumonia, she became dependent on
an oxygen tank. By the nineteen nineties, she was using
a wheelchair and suffering complications due to her diabetes, and
spending more and more time at home in bed. And
how long would she be in bed?

Speaker 1 (38:05):
Sometimes she could just be in bed until the next
time she went on the road, which could be months. Yes,
and she's learned to do everything from her bed, from
her bedroom, so it was like an office. She would
write songs in her bed. There's one I want to
play for you. That's so beautiful, haven to.

Speaker 2 (38:32):
Lonely more too long and too.

Speaker 3 (38:55):
So gorgeous, so much longing.

Speaker 1 (38:58):
That's why we're all drawn to her songs though. It's
that longing that we all have, and then she just
puts it into words and song for us.

Speaker 11 (39:11):
Cut up here.

Speaker 2 (39:16):
I guess I wouldn't know read for me because I
haven't long too long.

Speaker 3 (39:37):
Were there times when you'd see her in bed and think, now,
I wonder if she could get up and walk out
of here?

Speaker 1 (39:45):
She absolutely could, and I know that because well she
would have dinner parties where she would at least go
from the bedroom to the dining room. But there was
also a time when I got in a car accident.
Someone t boned men intersection and really badly destroyed my car.
I was okay, thank goodness, but I called her and

she was there in like ten minutes, with her turbanon
and her sunglasses, looking very glamorous. But she was there
in ten minutes.

Speaker 3 (40:17):
In nineteen ninety five, a seventy five year old Peggy
Lee performed from a wheelchair at the Hollywood Bowl. After
the show that night, Holly told her grandmother that it
was time.

Speaker 1 (40:31):
I just said, it just seems like it's getting harder
for you. She didn't ever want to be thought of
as a joke. She wanted to go out on a high,
and that was the end. That was the last performance.

Speaker 3 (40:43):
Holly says, Peggy remained a romantic until the very end.

Speaker 1 (40:48):
One of the ways I know that is when I
fell in love with my husband and told her, oh, Mama,
I've met a boy, and she wanted to know everything.
It was like she was reading a romance novel. She
just ate it up. She at that point was beyond
romance for herself. But she loved watching me have a romance.

And I'm so grateful that she was able to be
at our wedding. We got married in June of nineteen
ninety eight, and she had her stroke in October.

Speaker 3 (41:24):
Peggy Lee died of a heart attack on January twenty first,
twenty oh two, at the age of eighty one. There's
a PBS documentary on Peggy that was made in nineteen
sixty nine, the year before she released Is that all There?
Is Peggy is wry and sophisticated. Here an artist who

knows what she wants.

Speaker 10 (41:47):
I choose a material that lets me tell a story.

Speaker 4 (41:50):
You know, it's a nice way.

Speaker 3 (41:51):
To make a living. I wants talk to a musician
who said, your voice is one of the greatest musical
instruments ever ever created.

Speaker 4 (41:58):
Whoever that was, I love it.

Speaker 3 (42:01):
And yet there's something about the way she's wearing her hair.
Here you can see her artistry, but she's also she's
wearing her hair and pigtails, so there's something also kind
of girlish at the same time.

Speaker 1 (42:13):
Yes, yes, there's I always said there was a little
girl in her.

Speaker 9 (42:19):
Sometimes I would see that childlike.

Speaker 1 (42:21):
Quality, and I think it was she was always looking
for our mom. She was a powerful woman with a
powerful career, but there was that little girl there always.

Speaker 3 (42:34):
What do you think she was trying to do with
her voice?

Speaker 7 (42:37):
She had to get out of the childhood physically as
well as metaphorically.

Speaker 3 (42:43):
That's biographer Peter Richmond.

Speaker 7 (42:44):
Again, she had to leave behind the thing she was leaving,
and she's doing it with one tool, the voice and
the rhythm and the perfect pitch and the talent she
had in writing lyrics that others couldn't. That was her
way of feeling a psychic wound.

Speaker 1 (43:03):
She said she wanted to leave a legacy, and she
really did.

Speaker 3 (43:07):
One final note today, Holly Foster Wells manages the Peggy
Lee estate, which includes all those songs her grandmother wrote.
Despite offers, Peggy never sold the rights to her written work.
Just like Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, Taylor Swift, great singer
songwriters who came after her. Peggy Lee understood the value

of what she had created.

Speaker 4 (43:35):
And it's a good day. Ah, shine in your shoes and.

Speaker 2 (43:39):
It's a good day.

Speaker 3 (43:49):
I certainly hope you enjoyed this mobituary. May I ask
you to please rate and review our podcast. You can
also follow Mobituaries on Facebook and Instagram, and you can
follow me on the social media platform formerly known as
Twitter at morocca. Hear all new episodes of Mobituaries every
Wednesday wherever you get your podcasts, and check out Mobituaries

Great Lives Worth Reliving, the New York Times best selling book,
now available in paperback and audiobook. It includes plenty of
stories not in the podcast. This episode of Mobituaries was
produced by Aaron Shrank Our team of producers also includes

Hazel Brian and me Morocca, with engineering by Josh Han.
Our theme music is written by Daniel Hart. Our archival
producer is Jamie Benson. Mobituary's production company is Neon Hum Media.
The original television version of this story was produced for
CBS Sunday Morning by John Demilio and edited by Steven Tyler.

Indispensable support from Alan Pang, Reggie Bazil and everyone at
CBS News Radio Special thanks to Holly Foster Wells and
the Estate of Peggy Lee, Steve Razies, Rand Morrison, Craig Swaggler,
Mike Hernandez, Alberto Robina and Francisco Robina. Executive producers for

Mobituaries include Megan Marcus, Jonathan Hirsch, and Mo Roca. The
series is created by Yours Truly
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