Peggy Lee was an American jazz singer, songwriter and actress whose career spanned six decades. In 1942 Lee had her first 1 hit, “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place.” Peggy Lee grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota to Marvin, a station agent for the Midland Continental Railroad, and Selma, a housewife. Selma died when Peggy Lee was only four years old, leaving Marvin to juggle both work and his family, and Peggy Lee to grow up with the knowledge of how to look after herself.
As soon as she turned 18, Peggy Lee set forth on the path that would ultimately lead her to jazz and success as a performer. Having been involved with her high school glee club, church choir, and community chorus groups, Peggy Lee decided to venture out to Hollywood, CA., with the hope of becoming a singer and actress. However, upon arrival, Peggy Lee could only procure a singing engagement at a small social club, the Jade Room. She had no success at becoming an actress and was forced to take up a job as a waitress. Peggy Lee returned home to undergo a tonsillectomy and stayed in North Dakota while she recovered.
Following her recovery, Peggy Lee set out to Chicago where she quickly got a job singing at a nightclub, the Buttery Room. In 1941, Peggy Lee had become a standout performer and in a short time, Benny Goodman took interest in her and asked her to perform with his group. Benny Goodman’s band was at the height of its career when Peggy Lee joined, so the young singer felt the full force of fame all at once. In 1942, after learning performing with Benny Goodman’s band for more than two years, Peggy Lee recorded her first smash hit, “Why Don’t You Do Right?” The single was extremely popular and sold over 1 million copies, making Peggy Lee a recognizable figure and predicting her fame.
In 1946, she began to record for Capitol Records and began a professional relationship that would last throughout most of Lee’s career. In 1948, Lee got involved with NBC and performed on the Jimmy Durante Show and the Chesterfield Supper Club.
Over the course of her career, she received three Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Academy Award nomination, the ASCAP Award, Living Legacy Award and, in 1999, an induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Lee has had great success as a songwriter, working on music for Disney and writing songs for names like Sonny Burke, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, and Victor Young. Lee has also been mentor to Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, and Madonna.
On January 21, 2002, Peggy Lee died of a heart attack. Prior to her death, she had been suffering from complications due to her diabetes and, though still performing throughout the 90’s, was often seen in a wheelchair and weakened by her illness. Lee was 81 when she died and was buried in Westwood, Los Angeles, California.