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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 08:45 GMT
Peggy Lee: Lady of jazz
Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee won a grammy award in 1969
In a voice that was sultry, subtle and suggestive, Peggy Lee gently teased out the meaning from her songs in a way that made her one of the most enduringly popular singers of her time.

She was born Norma Egstrom in North Dakota, one of five children of Scandinavian stock. She began singing professionally in her teens but made her mark with the Benny Goodman Band in 1941 as a replacement for Helen Forrest. She was 21.

Peggy Lee sings with Benny Goodman
Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman, 1941
Her 1942 recording of Why Don't You Do Right? which she wrote herself, revealed an individual style. Johnny Mercer, her favourite lyricist, became her mentor at the outset of her career.

The writing partnership with her first husband, David Barbour, Benny Goodman's guitarist, culminated in the tremendously successful recording of Manana, but the problems caused by his alcoholism led to divorce in 1951.

She started to take charge of her professional life, and her innovative recording of the Rodgers and Hart composition Lover resulted from her ignoring Richard Rodgers's strict rules about how his songs were to be interpreted.

As her recording career gained momentum, so too did her composing abilities as with Tom Thumb, Johnny Guitar and Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp, co-scored with Sonny Burke in which she sang He's a Tramp and The Siamese Cat Song.

This, in turn, led to her role in the 1955 film Pete Kelly's Blues in which her portrayal of an alcoholic singer earned her an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Peggy Lee playing an alcoholic in
Lee plays the alcoholic in Pete Kelly's Blues
On record her material ranged from show tunes such as Mr Wonderful, to big-band blues such as Alright, OK, You Win. She also sang rhythm and blues including her most famous song, her adaptation of Little Willie John's Fever.

Lee's openness to so many forms of music led her to record the songs of contemporary performers from The Beatles to Judy Collins. In 1969 she had a Top Twenty hit with her highly formal version of Lieber and Stoller's Is That All There Is?.

Peggy Lee had many health problems, including diabetes. For ten years she had to use a lung machine and had had a double heart by-pass operation in 1985. She spent the final years of her career in a wheelchair but continued to perform and write.

Lady in Disney's
The voice behind He's a Tramp
In March 1991 Peggy Lee won nearly two million pounds after a three-year battle against Walt Disney for her share of the video profits for Lady and the Tramp. She had been paid only $3,500 and her contract had not covered residuals since video technology was unknown in 1955.

Peggy Lee was also a poet, screenwriter, author, painter and humanitarian. She often donated her artistic works for auction for non-profit organisations and established the Peggy Lee Music Scholarship to help musicians in time of need and for education.

But it is for her effortless singing style which she worked so hard to master, for which she will be best remembered.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC's media correspondent Nick Higham
"She could write as well as sing"
Music journalist Paul Gambuccini
"You didn't mess with Peggie Lee"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Send us your tributes to jazz legend Peggy LeePeggy Lee
Send us your tributes to the jazz legend
See also:

22 Jan 02 | Music
Jazz legend Peggy Lee dies
03 Nov 98 | Americas
Peggy Lee suffers stroke
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