Today is the anniversary of Peggy Lee’s birth. Lee had an improbably winding path to success from her hometown of Jamestown, North Dakota, to Fargo (where she took on her show business name), to Minneapolis and St. Louis, and to Chicago, where she was discovered by Benny Goodman at the moment he needed a replacement for Helen Forrest. In between St. Louis and Chicago were a couple of premature attempts on Hollywood. Once she caught on with Goodman in 1941, however, she never looked back.
She wrote several of her most successful songs, such as “It’s a Good Day.” She equally owned the songs she covered, including of course Little Willie John’s “Fever” and the Leiber-Stoller composition “Is That All There Is?” They carry her personal stamp every bit as much as her own numbers.
She was a musician’s musician. Think of her terrific duets with Bing Crosby and Mel Torme. Recall that Paul McCartney proudly contributed the title track to Lee’s 1974 “Let’s Love.” Listening to her music today, one is struck by how far she could go on an innate sense of swing and pure taste. For a heartfelt contemporary tribute to Ms. Lee, check out the beautiful “Fever” by the Twin Cities’ own Connie Evingson.