Rock & Roll Books

Summer reading

Rock & Roll Books

Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee

by Peter Richmond

Henry Holt and Company, 464 pp., $30

In Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee, the subject reclines in the good company of mostly blonde, white girl singers – Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney – that accompanied the best of the big bands. In terms of mass market, they outshone the luminous, more soulful voices of Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Billie Holiday, all of whom fought the battle of race. Taken as a whole, none of them escaped the setbacks of being women in a male-dominated business, and that took its toll. For Peggy Lee, born Norma Egstrom, singing was the way out from under a cruel stepmother and bleak Scandanavian-Lutheran background in North Dakota. As GQ writer Peter Richmond spins her tale in extravagant prose, with velvet words that make for gushy reading, Lee rode life's rollercoaster blindfolded and unbelted. The peaks – working with Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra – and having hits over several decades ("Fever," "Is That All There Is") – were rudely offset by failed relationships and broken marriages, all of which led to her deeply spiritual search for meaning. Lee was never destined for artisitic immortality, yet her voice, smooth as the curl of cigarette smoke, her platinum allure, and a calling-card song like "Fever" nevertheless enshrine her in divahood's grand hall.

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