Peggy Lee’s 13 guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show span nearly the entire 23-year life of the legendary show – the longest-running musical-variety program in television history. She first appeared only seven weeks after the show’s June 20, 1948 launch, when it was titled Toast of the Town, borrowing its name from Sullivan’s longtime newspaper column. Peggy’s final appearance, in March of 1970, came one year before the series finally concluded on March 28, 1971.
Not much is known about Peggy’s first appearance on August 8, 1948 – not even the songs she sang. Variety reviewed her performance without naming the songs: “Peggy Lee, doubling from the Paramount Theater, provided the high-spot with a well-delineated group. She looks excellent in close-up, although the full-length shots tend to harden her appearance. Miss Lee concentrated on ballads, which made for a high degree of audience satisfaction.”
Her second appearance, on October 22, 1950, is the earliest one available on The Ed Sullivan Show’s YouTube channel. On this broadcast she performed her recent Capitol Records chart hit Show Me the Way to Get Out of This World:
Also on this broadcast she performed the classic French ballad La Vie en Rose. A Variety critic wrote that “Miss Lee, accompanied on the guitar by her husband Dave Barbour, nicely put over La Vie en Rose. Camera work and lighting on Miss Lee was top-flight for vaudeo stage conditions.” (“Vaudeo” then connoted both vaudeville and video.)
Peggy’s third appearance on Sullivan came on January 13, 1952, for a special hour saluting George White, the veteran producer of Broadway musicals and films. Variety reviewed her performance: “Topping the listing was Peggy Lee, one of the more expressive song-chicks around. Miss Lee negotiated one of the top White tunes, Are You Having Any Fun?, and participated in a well-presented finale.” Unfortunately Peggy’s solo performance is not currently available on The Ed Sullivan Show YouTube channel, but she can be heard at the beginning of an ensemble performance of Thank Your Father, and she is seen in the background of this performance by Rudy Vallee singing Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries, which was a hit for him back in 1931:
Although Peggy was a frequent guest star on many variety shows throughout the 1950s, it wasn’t until October 16, 1960 that she returned to The Ed Sullivan Show for her fourth appearance. This broadcast was part of a short-lived offshoot series called See America With Ed Sullivan, and it was taped in and around San Francisco. Other guests included jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singer Dorothy Kirsten, singer Johnny Mathis, and comedian Mort Sahl. Peggy’s segments included one where she sang two songs to a room of U.S. servicemen: her own co-composition I Love Being Here With You and Yes Indeed, both featured on her new album Basin Street East Proudly Presents Miss Peggy Lee.
For a segment filmed along the Pacific coast, Peggy sang the little-known 1954 ballad In Other Words, featured on her album Pretty Eyes. Peggy helped popularize the song, which soon became better known as Fly Me to the Moon, and she included its rare verse.
Peggy returned to Sullivan’s stage only four months later, on February 12, 1961, for her fifth appearance, where she performed several songs featured in her current nightclub act at Basin Street East, including a medley of One Kiss, My Romance and The Vagabond King Waltz:
She also performed Non Dimenticar from her recent Ole ala Lee album; video is not currently available on The Ed Sullivan Show channel, but audio is available here. Finally, she reprised her 1943 chart hit with Benny Goodman, Why Don’t You Do Right:
Her sixth appearance came over a year later, on May 20, 1962, when she sang The Sweetest Sounds from the new Richard Rodgers musical No Strings:
She also sang the 1928 standard I’ll Get By, which would be featured on her upcoming album I’m a Woman:
Another new Broadway song she performed was Frank Loesser’s I Believe in You, from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying:
Finally on this 1962 broadcast, she sang New York City Blues, which she co-wrote with Quincy Jones for their new album Blues Cross Country:
Peggy returned for her seventh Sullivan appearance on November 4, 1962. This was a special program saluting Richard Rodgers, taped at Carnegie Hall, and also featuring singers Diahann Carroll, Nancy Dussault, Steve Lawrence, Gordon MacRae, Roberta Peters and Cesare Siepi. For her first performance she sang Rodgers and Hart’s Mountain Greenery, a song she had performed on radio ten years earlier:
With Steve Lawrence she performed a duet of the Rodgers and Hart classic Manhattan:
As a second solo she sang It Might as Well Be Spring from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair:
Only one month later she returned for her eighth appearance, on December 9, 1962. Her songs this time included The Best Is Yet to Come – Peggy was among the first singers to record this soon-to-be standard, along with Jesse Belvin, Tony Bennett, Charlie Cochran, Johnny Mathis and Sarah Vaughan. Unusually for Peggy, this number was staged with dancers in the background:
Peggy was also among the first to perform Nice ‘n’ Easy, although she wouldn’t release it on record until 1966. For this 1962 performance she paired it with the 1933 standard Close Your Eyes as well as another standard not featured in this video, Like Someone in Love:
For her final number she performed what would soon become one of her many signature songs, I’m a Woman by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. This performance was only 25 days after she recorded the song for Capitol Records:
Although Peggy did not perform on Sullivan’s show in 1963 or 1964, she did have the honor of having one of her co-compositions, I Love Being Here With You, sung by the brilliant Ella Fitzgerald on Sullivan’s February 2, 1964 broadcast:
After a gap of nearly three years, Peggy returned to Sullivan’s stage for her ninth appearance on November 7, 1965 – her first one broadcast in color – when she performed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s It’s a Grand Night for Singing from State Fair, George and Ira Gershwin’s How Long Has This Been Going On from Rosalie, and Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s Come Back to Me from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever:
Later in the show she was joined by the Righteous Brothers for a rousing trio of Yes Indeed (her second performance of this song on Sullivan’s show):
For her tenth appearance, on October 23, 1966, Peggy reprised Nice ‘n’ Easy, which she first performed on the show in 1962. This time it was featured on her new Capitol album Guitars ala Lee:
For a second number she performed another new Broadway song, the title song for Walking Happy by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, one month before the show’s opening:
Peggy’s eleventh appearance came nearly a year later, on October 1, 1967, when she performed her new Capitol single I Feel It:
Next she performed the 1945 standard The More I See You by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon:
Also on this broadcast she joined fellow guests Sergio Franchi and Nancy Sinatra. As a trio they sang One of Those Songs. Next they each sang a portion of a song popularized by one of the others, with Nancy singing Peggy’s Why Don’t You Do Right, Sergio singing Nancy’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, and Peggy singing Sergio’s Al Di La. Finally they each sang a brief portion of a standard, with Sergio singing Autumn Leaves, Nancy singing Where or When, and Peggy singing I Concentrate on You, a Cole Porter ballad that she hadn’t previously recorded.
Peggy’s twelfth appearance came on April 6, 1969, when she performed two songs from her new Capitol album A Natural Woman, including the title song by Gerry Goffin, Carole King and Jerry Wexler:
She also performed her cover of Blood, Sweat and Tears’ Spinning Wheel, with a decidedly psychedelic staging:
Peggy’s thirteenth and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, on March 1, 1970, was for an hourlong tribute to the Beatles songbook that also featured Duke Ellington, Eydie Gorme, Steve Lawrence and Dionne Warwick. Peggy’s performance of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, staged with dancers, is not currently available on The Ed Sullivan Show YouTube channel, nor is her performance of Yesterday, sung with Dionne Warwick along to an archival performance of Paul McCartney on a September 1965 Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy’s solo ballad performance was of George Harrison’s Something, which she had recently released as a single on Capitol Records as well as on her highly successful album Is That All There Is:
We hope you’ve enjoyed this video retrospective spanning 20 years of Peggy’s musical heyday, all courtesy of The Ed Sullivan Show’s YouTube channel. These performances bring Peggy’s great versatility to life: her wide-ranging musical tastes, her showmanship, her quiet intensity, her sly humor, her sexiness, her charm. Her performances from the early 1960s in particular, drawn mainly from her nightclub act at the time and featuring her rhythm section, provide a tantalizing view of what a Basin Street East or Copacabana audience would have experienced. Her great command of a television camera is also apparent, particularly with an intimate ballad. Finally, the tremendous audience warmth she engendered when walking onto the Sullivan stage is evident from episode to episode, year after year. As Ed Sullivan said upon introducing her in 1965, “Here is one of the greatest of all time, Peggy Lee.”
Selections from Peggy’s Ed Sullivan Show performances are also available for your listening enjoyment on Spotify, including the albums covering 1950-1961, 1962, and 1963-1969; and singles for The Best Is Yet to Come, The More I See You, A Natural Woman, Something, and Yes Indeed (with the Righteous Brothers).
Thanks to SOFA Entertainment for kindly providing this charming photo of Ed and Peggy. Visit EdSullivan.com to learn much more about The Ed Sullivan Show.