The Artistry of… Peggy Lee
She was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in North Dakota. Her epitaph says, “Music is my life’s breath.” That is a giant proclamation.
The famous quiet and engaging voice belied a challenging childhood rife with physical and emotional abuse. She escaped through music. Like so many others, she was challenged by the realities of the struggles for women for respect and equality in all aspects of life. Tony Bennett called her “the female Frank Sinatra” — an impressive comparison, but not in focus enough for me. Though with the greatest of the time’s intent, it is obscured by some lurking, systemic shadows. Lee was impressed by the words, but I think she is simply without comparison. She belonged in the game.
She was a songwriter, recognized as a foremother of the singer-songwriter school. This set her apart from many of her contemporaries, with more than 200 songs and collaborations with major artists like Harold Arlen, Quincy Jones, Cy Coleman, and Duke Ellington. Her artistic fearlessness is inspiration for a contemporary generation of some of the greatest female singers including Billie Eilish, Diana Krall, and k.d. lang.
This quote from Sinatra is a most defining phrase about the magic of Lee’s artistry: “Peg is just about the best friend a song ever had.” Peggy Lee, friend of the song.
The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.