Jazz composer Oney celebrates the centennial of musician Peggy Lee’s birth in a melodious tribute to the singer’s versatility as a singer and composer. Lee (1920–2002) grew up in North Dakota and during high school had guest spots singing on local radio stations until she was offered her own show. At age 17 she left for California, where she was discovered by and joined up with band leader Benny Goodman. She eventually left Goodman’s band to pursue a solo career, and signed a contract with Capitol Records, releasing her first album, Rendezvous with Peggy Lee, in 1947. Oney illustrates how Lee’s restless creativity and canny music and business sense helped her climb the ladder of success and expanded her audiences. In the 1950s Lee was offered another radio show, the Peggy Lee Show (also known as Club 88), a segment of which was to highlight contemporary composers such as Frank Loesser and Hoagy Carmichael. In the 1970s, Lee collaborated with such stars as Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, which introduced her to a new generation of listeners. As Oney points out, Lee’s ways with a song allowed her to move with ease from singing blues and jazz to popular contemporary songs. This is a delightful volume for fans of American pop standards.
Oney pays tribute to the iconic singer by focusing “exclusively on Lee’s musical footprint and artistic legacy." Previous books about Lee haven’t paid sufficient attention to her musicianship, Oney writes, and she capably fills the void with this thoughtful and perceptive look at Lee's 60-year career. Lee recorded more than 50 albums and composed more than 250 songs, and Oney describes how many were created. Lee worked with a number of notables in American popular song, and among them were Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Mel Tormé, Vic Damone, Perry Como, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. Lee was also an advocate for intellectual property rights and royalties for film composers, songwriters, and musical performers. In her early years as a big band singer to her recordings for Capitol, Decca, and other labels; her film contributions as performer, composer, and lyricist; her concerts and collaborations with other artists, new and established; her television performances; and more, Peggy Lee left her mark on American music. Oney's fresh and comprehensive biography is the perfect way to celebrate the centennial of Lee's birth.
This beautiful book achieves its aim with resounding success . . . Professor Oney seems uniquely qualified for her narrowly specified subject – an easily accessible and lucidly composed examination of Peggy Lee’s individual recordings over her career. . . . It is rare to find a work of such perfection as this book, and I can confirm that it is matched in that by the genius and natural talent of its subject.
4 Stars . . . Oney’s analysis of her subject’s unique singing style and eclectic musical output is revealing and piercingly insightful. She paints a fascinating portrait of a genius-level pop music pioneer . . . the book’s persuasive tone will justifiably prompt many readers to explore the vast shining sea that is Lee’s back catalogue.
This is a book that will appeal to those who are fans not only of Peggy Lee, but anyone interested in the area of American popular music. It is well written and researched, and provides a comprehensive view of the unique and continuingly appealing artistry of one of America’s most significant musical personalities.
. . . this finely tuned appraisal of Peggy Lee’s prolific career is totally absorbing. . . . Oney reminds us that Lee was a true pioneer, deftly navigating her way through a male dominated industry and not afraid to champion royalty rights for fellow songwriters.
Carefully researched and lovingly written, [Peggy Lee] digs into the backstories of Lee’s career, documenting challenges faced and triumphs claimed during six decades of performing.
It is impossible to come away from this book, especially if revisiting Lee's music en route, without a heightened sense of the nuance, skill and control in Lee's delivery . . . Oney's relentless attention to the technicalities in Lee's singing—the smears and slides, the perfect pitch, her rich tone and emotional gravitas, the soft, breathy delivery that was her calling card, and her improvisational ability to transform a song's melody and rhythm, build a persuasive picture of a singular talent . . . Peggy Lee: A Century Of Song will doubtless delight Lee's legions of fans, but its insights into Lee's stagecraft should be of particular interest to any aspiring singers who are sincere about the art of song, regardless of genre.
12/15/20: Jazz Times published exclusive book excerpt in honor of the artist’s centennial; “An Examination of Black Coffee by Peggy Lee.”