Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame
How often we criticize the encroachment of technology when it robs us of the old and familiar. However, recent advances in recorded sound have enriched our lives immensely and, at the push of a button, great performers remain with us, becoming truly immortal. One of them is the late jazz and pop singer Peggy Lee.
The preeminent Scandinavian-American (”I’m 3/4 Norwegian and 1/4 Swedish,” she was always quick to say) Miss Lee was born Norma Egstrom, in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1920. Her talent was discovered in Chicago in 1941. Pros in the business knew immediately and, young as she was, she was soon singing with Benny Goodman’s band. Her glorious song continued until three years before her death, when a stroke in 1998 impaired both her speaking and singing voice.
The Way You Look Tonight, Fever, Is That All There Is? and Golden Earrings… these and many more are her legacy. And how she amused listeners (in her usual straight-faced manner) with Manaña and I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good’. An extraordinary interpreter, the singing of her own songs and those of others would bring Peggy Lee 12 Grammy nominations.
Diabetes and heart disease made inroads on her health: yet, while a body may decline, in her we saw that genius does not. Her motto came from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “God will not have his work done by cowards.” Amazingly, even after double-bypass surgery in 1985 and a broken hip, this indomitable singer demonstrated her inherited Scandinavian resolve, of which she was so proud, by continuing to sing – seated in a wheelchair – still creating Peggy Lee magic.