July/August 2006

Peter Richmond
Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee

When, nearly two decades ago, Peggy Lee published her thin, uneven and largely fanciful autobiography, fans were left scratching their heads and wondering, “Is that all there is?” Along comes Peter Richmond to fill in the gaps and straighten out the loopy curves that plagued Lee’s book. Indeed, the facts are here, particularly as they pertain to the enigmatic Lee’s (nee Norma Deloris Egstrom) hardscrabble youth in North Dakota; her early career struggles; her big break with the notoriously temperamental Benny Goodman; her emergence as one of the few female songwriters of the era; her semiretirement in the 1940s (following her marriage to guitarist Dave Barbour and the birth of daughter Nicki); and her triumphant return as a solo star, rising alongside Jo Stafford, Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney out of the ashes of the Big Band era. Richmond’s research is impeccable. So, too, is his ability to appreciate and dissect the many odd-fitting parts—her perfectionism, her fascination with the mystical and the ethereal, her penchant for weak men, the intensity of both her warmth and iciness—that made up the crazy-quilt Lee pastiche. If there’s fault to be found here, it’s with the sense of hurriedness that pervades the later chapters, especially in contrast to earlier sections’ leisurely pace and rich personal and professional details. Richmond’s gallop through the 1960s and ’70s, a period of great triumph and turbulence for Lee, is so quick that entire albums (including the seminal Latin ala Lee and the cunningly thematic I Like Men) are omitted. Even if this isn’t the definitive Lee portrait (an abundance of typos doesn’t help, including the unfortunate misspelling of Bucky Pizzarelli’s surname as “Pizzaselli”), Fever is several degrees better than any other Lee tome that has surfaced to date.

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Peggy Lee

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