The “soft-as-silk” singing style of Peggy Lee, who with husband Dave Barbour began a two-week engagement at the Paramount Theater Wednesday, was an invention born of necessity. It came into being several years ago, while Peggy was performing at the Doll House in Palm Springs.
“One Saturday night,” Peggy revealed the other evening at her suite at the Hampshire House, “the audience was unusually boisterous. To cope with the noise, I lowered my voice with each successive song. The people soon forgot their bad manners, and I found a kind of delivery I’d been seeking for a long while.”
Blonde-tressed, hazel-eyed Peggy has since learned to vary her style as the occasion demands, but it was that seemingly effortless manner that later persuaded Benny Goodman to sign her as featured vocalist, a spot she filled successfully for two years. During the same period she met Dave, who had joined the band as a guitarist, and their marriage, now in its sixth year, has been hailed as one of the most successful in the music world.
“I retired shortly before our daughter, Nicki, was born. That was four years ago. I had no intention of returning to show business, but Carlos Gastel, my manager, casually suggested that I make two sides for Capitol Records – just for fun. The numbers were two that Dave and I had written – ‘What More Can a Woman Do?’ and ‘You Was Right Baby.’ They went over so well that we just had to go on making records. The first real smash was the ‘Golden Earrings’ disc last year. Frankly, that was a very ordinary vocal job, but Dave’s arrangement and accompaniment were really out of this world.”
An even bigger hit than “Golden Earrings” has been the Lee-Barbour recording of “Mañana,” which the couple wrote after a trip to Mexico. The disc has already passed the two-million mark. “Dave deserves all the credit,” says Peggy. “You know, if he weren’t my husband, I’d be glad to tell you he’s the greatest musician and arranger in the world.”
Peggy, who was born Norma Egstrom twenty-eight years ago in Jamestown, North Dakota, is just as positive about her favorite female vocalists. “You have to pick Maxine Sullivan for her simplicity; Billie Holiday for her emotional appeal, and Ella Fitzgerald for her ‘great heart.’”
Although the Barbours own a house in Hollywood Hills (“Nope, we don’t have a swimming pool”), Peggy is not over-eager for any picture work. “We’re anxious to lead as normal a family life as possible, and that’s pretty tough to do when you’re making films. As for Nicki, we’re giving her dancing lessons right now, but not with the idea of prepping her for the stage. When she gets older, of course, she’ll be free to do as she pleases, but I’m hoping she’ll choose a more restful life than her folks did.
“For a child her age, though, she’s shown a remarkable interest in the entertainment world. Her pet comedians are ‘Red Scallop’ and ‘Jimmy Durandy.’ I was listening to her say her prayers the other night, and she finished by using Durante’s tag-line, ‘Goodnight, Mrs. Calibash, wherever you are.’ If I hadn’t heard it, I never would have believed it.”