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December 23, 2022

Peggy Lee: The Queen of American Pop Music

Born 1920 as Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer, and actress Peggy Lee began singing from a young age. In Wimbledon, she was the female singer for a six-piece college dance band with leader Lyle “Doc” Haines. She traveled to various locations with Haines’ quintet on Fridays after school and on weekends.

Lee first sang professionally over KOVC radio in Valley City, North Dakota, in 1936. She later had her own 15-minute Saturday radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her salary in food. Both during and after her high-school years, she sang for small sums on local radio stations.

From her beginning as a vocalist on local radio to singing with Benny Goodman’s big band, Lee created a sophisticated persona, writing music for films, acting, and recording conceptual record albums combining poetry and music.

Called the “Queen of American pop music,” over a career spanning seven decades, Lee recorded over 1,100 masters and composed over 270 songs. She also worked as an actress when starring opposite Danny Thomas in The Jazz Singer (1952), a remake of the Al Jolson film, The Jazz Singer (1927). She played an alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Lee was nominated for 13 Grammy Awards. In 1969, her hit “Is That All There Is?” won her the Grammy for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance. She continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes using a wheelchair. In 1995, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

After years of poor health, Lee died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack in 2002, at the age of 81. Take a look at these gorgeous photos to see portraits of a young Peggy Lee in the 1940s and 1950s.


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