by Dick Williams
Nobody knows the price of fame better than Peggy Lee, 26-year-old canary. But after twelve years of perseverance, the angel-faced moonbeam blonde has cleared the more formidable hurdles to crowd some of the best vocalists in the business for record honors.
Her unique microphone personality produces a 96-proof blend of honeysuckle and TNT, ranking her as one of Capitol Records’ most likely entries in the race of platter popularity. Bolstering that bid was her selection as the best songstress of 1946 in polls by Down Beat and Metronome, musical trade magazines. Peggy’s potent style also won a regular spot on the Bing Crosby air show last winter.
It all dates back to 1935 when she started singing professionally. She was known as Norma Egstrom until she got her first job on Station WDAY, Fargo, North Dakota.
Peggy always had an urge to “get away” from Fargo and this in time led to a job at the Hotel Radisson in Minneapolis. Some months later, Will Osborne played an engagement in the Twin Cities and offered Peggy a job. She’d heard of the killing pace of one-nighter circuits but she seized the opportunity anyway and stuck with the Osborne crew until it broke up. Then she went west and wound up at a Palm Springs night spot. It was there that an agent tagged her for a date in Chicago where Benny Goodman heard and hired her.
The going had been slow for Peggy and she suffered her share of heartaches and misadventures along the way. A severe throat ailment early in her career, the cold-shoulder treatment in Hollywood, and stage fright with Goodman’s band were only a few obstacles she had to overcome, and any of them might have stymied a girl with less pluck. But her jittery days with Goodman brought her a good struck of luck – Dave Barbour, Benny’s guitarist who later became her husband.
It was a sad day for Goodman when the Barbours, yearning to settle down and raise a family, broke away from the band and headed west but he accepted it as inevitable. In Hollywood, Dave quickly established himself in radio and on records while Peggy retired to become a mother. Thoughts of returning to professional singing faded. But in 1945 she was persuaded to sign a record contract with Capitol. Her first platter pairing “Ain’t Goin’ No Place” and “That Old Feeling” went into an album and Peggy was on her way, belying the title of the first number.
Peggy’s feel for music led her to writing as well as singing songs. Soon after the marriage four years ago, she and Dave wrote “What More Can a Woman Do?” and “You Was Right, Baby” – she the lyrics, he the melodies. Of course, it was the way she originally chirped “Why Don’t You Do Right?” that put her in the big-time with the record shop trade.