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ClassicsOnline Home » LEE, Peggy: It's a Good Day (1941-1950)
PEGGY LEE "Its a Good Day"
Original Recordings 1941-1950
Peggy Lees interpretations have been viewed as "minimalist" but in retrospect miniaturist seems a fairer classification, for like few other recording stars of her generation this rare master of the three-minute saga shone at making something clearly mapped-out sound totally spontaneous. A perfectionist with a great ear, Miss Lees discography of over 600 items shows a consistent skill before the microphone. Firmly rooted in Swing, she acknowledged a preference for that style as well as a debt to her association with Benny Goodman but, an individualist who kept faith with blues while remaining receptive to more modern developments, she hoped nonetheless to be remembered for her own unique and multi-faceted contribution as a solo vocalist.
Peggy was born Norma Deloris Egstrom into a family of Swedish and Norwegian ancestry, in Jamestown in rural North Dakota, on May 26, 1920. The future singer, songwriter and film actress endured a difficult upbringing at the hands of a violent stepmother and an alcoholic railway-worker father but in spite of obstacles and hardships emerged to make her début as a vocalist on local radio at sixteen. From high school she went briefly (and unsuccessfully) to Hollywood but later, while working as a waitress in Fargo, North Dakota, doubled as a vocalist on the WDAY radio station where the manager fortuitously gave her the name Peggy Lee.
Thereafter, she gradually made a name on the Midwest nightclub circuit and, in the late spring of 1941, was heard in the vocal group The Four Of Us at Chicagos Ambassador West Hotel by pianist-arranger Mel Powell. Through Powell she met Goodman, who viewed her initially as a replacement for Helen Forrest, then about to leave his ranks for the Harry James Orchestra. Hired initially by Goodman for a College Inn engagement ("I guess weve got to get somebody for Helen!", was the clarinet aces apocryphal comment) Peggy passed muster and was allowed to stay on. With the bulk of her arrangements made to measure by freelance trumpeter-composer Eddie Sauter (1914-1981) she went on tour, broadcast on coast-to-coast radio with the Goodman band and with them had soon recorded a string of charted US popular hits. These included her first, "I Got It Bad And That Aint Good" (No.25 from the Duke Ellington revue Jump For Joy), Blues In The Night (trombonist Lou McGarity (1917-1971) also features in this No.20 Goodman Sextet version of the Oscar-nominated Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen title-song of the 1941 Warner Bros. film-musical), My Little Cousin (No.14) and the million-selling Why Dont You Do Right? (a US pop No.4 this last, a cross-over imitation of a blues originally recorded and featured by black vocalist Lil Green, she performed with Goodman in the 1943 Sol Lesser film-musical Stage Door Canteen).
In 1943 Lee left Goodman after marrying his guitarist Dave Barbour (1912-1965), the New York-born swing bandleader who became her musical director from late 1944 when she resumed her career as a solo vocalist. Among their early successes were That Old Feeling (a revival of an Oscar-nominated Sammy Fain song from the Walter Wanger film Vogues Of 1938), Sonny Skylars Waiting For The Train To Come In (US No.4 hit) and Herb Magidsons Linger In My Arms A Little Longer, Baby (No.16 hit) in addition to various Lee-Barbour collaborations, most notably I Dont Know Enough About You (No.7 hit) and Its A Good Day (No.16). Backed by the Barbour band, in 1947 Peggy had a US No.2 with Jay Livingston and Ray Evans Golden Earrings, while Caramba, Its The Samba! clocked in at No.13. Their 1948 hits included Willard Robisons memorably droll homily Dont Smoke In Bed (No.22) and a Latin-American No.1 (with their own Mañana) and outstanding among their 1949 hits was this cover version of Bali Hai from South Pacific.
Popular on radio from the late 1940s onwards, Peggy Lees activity extended also, albeit sporadically, to the silver screen. Cameos in 1943 with Goodman in The Powers Girl (United Artists) and Stage Door Canteen were followed by more prominently vocal appearances in Mr. Music (Paramount, 1950, with Bing Crosby) and The Jazz Singer (a 1953 Warner remake of the 1927 Jolson original). In 1954 she performed the title song to the Republic western Johnny Guitar and during the following year provided the voice-over to Disneys Lady And The Tramp (for this she wrote songs, including "Hes A Tramp") and received an Oscar nomination for her role in the Warner cult film Pete Kellys Blues. In 1956 she had a Top 20 hit (her last for Decca) with "Mr. Wonderful" then, in 1958, back on the Capitol label, a Top 10 hit with "Fever". In 1969 she won a Grammy award for "Is That All There Is?" and from then until the late 1980s continued to take club audiences by storm. In 1991 she won a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Disney, in respect of unpaid royalties accruing from the video re-release of Lady And The Tramp. In 1993 she recorded a duet with Gilbert OSullivan and in 1994, although wheel-chair bound, sold out a Royal Festival Hall booking with the Brandenburg Symphony Orchestra (an eagerly awaited event which was sadly cancelled when it emerged that its promoter was a conman).
Peggy Lee died in Los Angeles, California, on 21st January, 2002
Peter Dempsey, 2002
BENNY GOODMAN & HIS ORCHESTRA
2nd October, 1941: Benny Goodman, clarinet; Billy Butterfield, Jimmy Maxwell, Cootie Williams, Al Davis, trumpets; Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, trombones; Skip Martin, Clint Neagley, alto sax; Vido Musso, George Berg, tenor sax; Chuck Gentry, baritone sax; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; John Simmons, bass; Sid Catlett, drums
24th December, 1941: (SEXTET) Benny Goodman, clarinet; Lou McGarity, trombone & vocal effects; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Ralph Collier, drums
5th February, 1942: Benny Goodman, clarinet; Jimmy Maxwell, Al Davis, Bernie Privin, trumpets; Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, trombones; Clint Neagley, Sol Kane, alto sax; Vido Musso, George Berg, tenor sax; Chuck Gentry, baritone sax; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Ralph Collier, drums
27th July, 1942: Benny Goodman, clarinet; Jimmy Maxwell, Lawrence Stearns, Tony Faso, trumpets; Lou McGarity, Charlie Castaldo, trombones; Hymie Scherzer, Clint Neagley, alto sax; Jon Walton, Leonard Sims, tenor sax; Bob Poland, baritone sax; Mel Powell, piano; Dave Barbour, guitar; Cliff Hill, bass; Hud Davies, drums
THE CAPITOL JAZZMEN (*track 5 only; **track 6 only)
7th January, 1944: *Pete Johnson, piano; Eddie Miller, tenor sax; *Barney Bigard, clarinet; *Les Robinson, alto sax; *Shorty Sherock, trumpet; Nappy LaMare, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Nick Fatool, drums; **Stan Wrightsman, celeste
DAVE BARBOURS ORCHESTRA
27th December, 1944: Billy May, trumpet; Heinie Beau, Harold Lawson, Maurice Stein, saxes; Milt Raskin, piano; Dave Barbour, guitar; Artie Shapiro, bass; Nick Fatool, drums
Similar personnel for 30th July, 1945; 26th December, 1945; 11th April, 1946; 12th July, 1946
23rd & 24th September, 1947; 2nd December, 1947: Ray Linn, Zeke Zarchey, trumpets; Heinie Beau, clarinet; Benny Carter, Herbie Haymer, saxes; Buddy Cole, piano; Dave Barbour, guitar; Red Callender, bass; Nick Fatool, drums; Red Norvo, vibraphone; and others
25th November, 1947: Dave Barbour, guitar; with the BANDO DA LUA plus brass, flutes and reeds
11th March, 1949 & 16th January, 1950: Studio orchestra, unknown personnel
CHARLES WOLCOTTS ORCHESTRA
1946: Studio orchestra, unknown personnel
Transfers and Production: David Lennick.
Digital Noise Reduction: Graham Newton
Photo of Peggy Lee (b/w original, Michael Ochs Archives)
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LEE, Peggy: It's a Good Day (1941-1950)