Legacy Content

Toon Talk Legacy: Peggy Lee
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by Kirby C. Holt (archives)
January 25, 2002
Kirby pays tribute to Peggy Lee from of Lady and the Tramp fame.

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Peggy Lee
1920 - 2002

She was the sultry-voiced singer who will forever be known for such pop music classics as "Fever", "The Way You Look Tonight", "Big Spender" and "Is That All There Is?". But for Disney fans, Peggy Lee will always be loved for being the lady behind the music of Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp.

The Grammy Award-winning singer/Oscar nominated actress passed away at her Bel Air home from a heart attack on Monday, January 21st at the age of 81.

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Peggy Lee was born Norma Egstrom on May 26, 1920 in Jamestown, ND. Her mother died at a young age; her father remarried, to a woman who was abusive to the young Norma. She turned to singing as an outlet; inspired by listening to Count Basie on the radio, she taught herself how to sing. At age 14, she made her vocal debut on a local radio station.

After moving to Fargo to perform for a radio station there, she changed her name to the flashier Peggy Lee. Minneapolis, St. Louis and even two trips to Hollywood garnered little fame for the aspiring songbird.

It wasn't until 1941, while performing in Chicago, that Lee got her big break. World famous band leader Benny Goodman heard her sing, and quickly recruited her to the recording studio. After several hits, she hit the top of the charts with "Why Don't You Do Right" (later covered many years later by one Jessica Rabbit in Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit), but soon after left the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and show biz altogether, when she married Goodman's guitarist, Dave Barbour, and they had their daughter, Nicki.

But her retirement didn't last long. She returned to recording, adding songwriter to her repertoire, penning such hits as "Manana" and "It's a Good Day" with her husband. After her marriage to Barbour ended, she was recruited by a major film studio to co-write the songs for an animated tale of two dogs from opposite sides of the tracks who fall in love.

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Joined by Sonny Burke, Lee created the charming song score for the 1955 classic Lady and the Tramp. In addition to her songwriting chores, Lee provided the voices for Darling (Lady's owner), the mischievous siamese cats Si and Am, and her namesake Peg, the "Dog and Pony Show" star now suffering the indignities of the city dog pound. This character was not only named after Lee, but her movements were patterned after Lee herself.

Through these characters, Lee sang her own compositions "What Is a Baby", "La La Lu", "The Siamese Cat Song" (where she dueted with herself) and the show-stopping "He's a Tramp". But her most enduring contribution is "Belle Notte", sung during the unforgettable spaghetti scene, which has become one of the most beloved romantic moments in cinematic history.

Lee appeared on the Disneyland television series in the episode entitled Cavalcade of Song. She is seen in the studio working on the music for the film and recording her two separate tracks for "The Siamese Cat Song".

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