Teaching Students About Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee, born Norma Deloris Egstrom on May 26, 1920, was one of the most iconic jazz and pop singers of the 20th century. Throughout her career, which spanned six decades, she recorded over 1,100 songs, released 50 studio albums, and received numerous awards such as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Her unique voice and influential songwriting style made her a timeless figure in music history. Teaching your students about Peggy Lee can help them appreciate not only her music but also the cultural impact of an enduring artist.
Early Life and Career
Begin by discussing Peggy Lee’s humble beginnings. Born in North Dakota to a musical family of Swedish ancestry, she experienced personal loss at a young age when her mother passed away. Despite her early hardships and struggles with self-confidence, she persevered and began singing professionally at just 14 years old.
Highlight her breakout moment in 1941 when Benny Goodman discovered Peggy Lee while she sang on a radio show in Chicago. Her successful audition led to a two-year tour with Benny Goodman’s band. During this time, she recorded her first hit song “Why Don’t You Do Right?” which propelled her into national stardom.
Popular Songs and Collaborations
Introduce some of Peggy Lee’s most famous songs to your students. Some classics include “It’s A Good Day,” “Black Coffee,” “Fever,” “Is That All There Is?,” and “Mr. Wonderful.” Encourage students to listen to these songs for homework or during class time to help them understand the stylistic nuances that defined her unique sound.
Discuss significant collaborations with industry stalwarts such as Bing Crosby, Mel Tormé, and Louis Armstrong will provide your students with perspective on how influential she was throughout the years.
Songwriting and Innovation
Delve into Peggy Lee’s talents as a songwriter and innovator. She was an accomplished lyricist, with notable writing credits on songs like “It’s A Good Day,” “Golden Earrings,” and “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” Additionally, she composed the scores for several films, including the 1955 Disney classic “Lady and the Tramp,” showcasing her versatility as a composer.
Highlight her innovative use of vocal looping in the song “Fever” (1958). Lee layered vocals over percussion, bass line, and finger snaps to create a sultry ambiance that influenced countless musicians after her.
Legacy and Influence
As you wrap up your lesson, emphasize Peggy Lee’s enduring contribution to music history. Mention her 1995 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and her 1999 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as examples of recognition by the music industry.
Discuss how her influence can still be felt in modern music today. Many contemporary artists like Fiona Apple, Emilie-Claire Barlow, and Madeleine Peyroux have cited Peggy Lee as an inspiration due to her unmistakable voice, writing abilities, and unique stage presence. By teaching your students about Peggy Lee’s life and work, you help them appreciate the rich history of jazz and pop music while also gaining valuable insights into a celebrated artist’s life.