<b>Peggy Lee's fever pitch</b>
Singer/songwriter Peggy Lee consistently proved during her lengthy and impressive career that a great performer could be extremely popular, yet maintain high artistic standards. Peter Richmond's exhaustively researched new biography, <b>Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee</b>, chronicles her rise from obscure small-town singer Norma Deloris Egstrom to jazz and pre-rock diva Peggy Lee, the epitome of class, swing and sophistication. The journey was anything but smooth, and Richmond details the constant turmoil and stress Lee endured throughout her life, from early problems with stage fright and mastering physical awkwardness to tragic romantic encounters and four unsuccessful marriages. Though he delves extensively into intimate situations, Richmond does so without becoming judgmental or substituting innuendo for fact.
He's equally convincing in his examination of Lee's musical gifts. His descriptions of her interaction with such famously prickly characters as Johnny Mercer and Benny Goodman give readers insight into not only what made her excel musically, but also how sharp she was in dealing with creatively innovative, quirky figures. Lee had an incredible knack for reworking a tune, and turned Lil Green's Why Won't You Do Right and Little Willie John's Fever into such masterful signature songs that many mistakenly assumed she had written them. Her storytelling skills were ideal for the lush, metaphor-laden material that was the stock-in-trade of Mercer, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and other kingpin composers of the pre-rock era.
Still, though Lee's fame and wealth increased, she seldom enjoyed sustained peace and happiness. Her desire to be simply Norma Deloris Egstrom from Nortonville, North Dakota, when she was at home frequently bewildered admirers and often angered her companions and husbands. The '70s and '80s proved mostly cruel decades in terms of commercial fortunes, but Lee continued working until she suffered a massive stroke in 1998. Fortunately, Richmond's volume ensures that Peggy Lee's contributions to the American musical canon will not only be remembered, but appreciated.