Peggy Lee


One Last Goodbye

Excerpt from “City of Angles” column
Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2002

There were roses on every flat surface. Swinging tunes from a five-piece jazz band filled the place. White-coated waiters passed hors d’oeuvres to guests who wore diamonds and furs. This was Peggy Lee’s last party.

On a 70-degree Saturday morning at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, about 300 of the jazz singer’s fans, family and oldest friends gathered to say goodbye at a special memorial service. Lee, known for hits such as “Fever” and “Is That All There Is?”, died of a heart attack on Jan. 21 at her home in Bel-Air, three years after a debilitating stroke.

Phoebe Jacobs and jazz singer Cy Coleman flew in from New York, and their memories of Lee reveal a woman who favored tight satin gowns, feather boas and 3-inch heels, a mercurial woman who was charming with a wicked sense of humor. When Quincy Jones once complained of exhaustion, she told him: “Quincy, even a mink has to lay down sometime.”

“When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad …. ” Jacobs told the crowd.

Jacobs met Lee in 1954 while working as a secretary at Lee’s label, Decca Records, in New York. “She was the star, and I was the office girl,” said Jacobs, 83. The two women became close friends years later after Jacobs’ uncle opened a Manhattan jazz club, a place on 48th and Lexington called Basin Street East, named after a Louie Armstrong song.

As she spoke of her old friend, Jacobs pulled from her handbag a pair of sunglasses that once belonged to Lee. They were round, tinted frames surrounded by rhinestones. Jacob handled them delicately as she told the story. “I had an allergy,” she said, that caused her eyes to swell. When Lee saw her friend’s puffy eyes, she handed over the Elton John-style glasses.

She put the glasses away and announced that it was time to sample the food. Jacobs led a new acquaintance by the hand to a table of chocolate-covered strawberries, tangerine tarts, mini pecan pies and marshmallow-filled cookies and stopped. “This,” she said, “is where Peggy Lee would have started.”

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