Peggy Lee dies at 81

Publié le par The Guardian

Jazz singer Peggy Lee has died at her Los Angeles home, her family said today.

Singer Peggy Lee poses in an undated photo taken by Hollywood photographer Maurice Seymour

Singer Peggy Lee poses in an undated photo taken by Hollywood photographer Maurice Seymour

The American singer-composer, whose smoky voice on songs such as Is That All There Is? and Fever made her a jazz and pop legend, died from a heart attack. She was 81.

Lee repeatedly battled injury and ill health, including a heart condition, in order to maintain a career that brought her a Grammy, an Oscar nomination and sell-out performances worldwide.

During more than 50 years in show business, which began during a troubled childhood and endured through four broken marriages, she recorded hit songs with the Benny Goodman band, wrote songs for a Disney movie and starred on Broadway in a short-lived autobiographical show, Peg.

Her vocal flexibility and cool, breathy voice brought sultry distinction to big band showstoppers, pop ballads and soulful laments and put her in the same league as Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith.

Lee's more notable recordings included Why Don't You Do Right?, I'm a Woman, Lover, Pass Me By, Where or When, The Way You Look Tonight, I'm Gonna Go Fishin' and Big Spender. The hit Is That All There Is? won her a Grammy for best contemporary female vocal performance in 1969.

Jazz critic Whitney Balliett wrote of her: "Many singers confuse shouting with emotion. Peggy Lee sends her feelings down the quiet centre of her notes. She does not carry a tune; she elegantly follows it."

She was born Norma Egstrom on May 26, 1920, in Jamestown, North Dakota, where her father worked as a handyman and part-time railroad station agent.

Her mother died when she was 4, and she was abused by a stepmother. She said the experience turned out to be good for her, because she "learned independence."

She decided to become a singer at age 14, when she would earn 50 cents a night at gigs for local school parents' groups. A few years later she traveled to Fargo where she sang on a local radio station. The WDAY program director suggested a name change, and she became Peggy Lee.

Lee eventually arrived in Hollywood with $18 to her name, supporting herself as a waitress and between nightclub jobs.

Goodman, then the King of Swing, hired her to sing with his band after hearing her perform at a Chicago hotel.

A string of hits, notably Why Don't You Do Right?, made her a star. Then she fell in love with and married Goodman's guitarist, Dave Barbour, and withdrew for a while from the music world to raise their daughter, Nicki.

In 1956, she was cast as a boozy blues singer in Pete Kelly's Blues, and she was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar. She also appeared opposite Danny Thomas in an update of The Jazz Singer, but her film career was short-lived.

She sang to standing ovations from New York to Australia and recorded more than 600 songs and wrote many others.

In addition to Barbour, Lee was married to actors Brad Dexter and Dewey Martin and percussionist Jack Del Rio. "They weren't really weddings, just long costume parties," she once said.

She was about to reconcile with Barbour, who had conquered his alcoholism, when he died in 1965.

A diabetic, Lee was often troubled by weight and glandular problems. In 1961 she was felled by double pneumonia during a New York nightclub engagement.

Her return to recording in 1988 after a hiatus of more than a decade won her a Grammy nomination for Miss Peggy Lee Sings The Blues in 1989 and another for The Peggy Lee Songbook: There'll Be Another Spring in 1991.

In early 1985 she underwent four angioplasties - balloon surgery to open clogged arteries - and resumed her singing tour. While appearing in New Orleans in October 1985, she underwent double-bypass heart surgery.

She was back on stage the following April, telling a Los Angeles audience, "Thank you from the bottom of my new heart."

 

Publié dans Avis de décès

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