by Daphne Kraft
With her eyes half closed and her head tilted beneath a cascade of champagne-colored tresses, Peggy Lee can break open a piñata of songs as hot as chili or as cool as autumn rain. Now that autumn is here, she is once again on deck at Manhattan’s Copacabana with a clutch of sparkling gowns, some Chinese windbells, a guitar or two and a score of songs waiting to be rediscovered or newly shown.
Miss Lee was rediscovered herself last week as she contemplated her likeness on a poster, clad in a diaphanous gown. “Of all the poses of me, this one is my minister’s favorite,” she laughed. “He hangs it in his office. It’s exciting for me to come to New York because I love this city. I enjoy painting and frequently when I get back to my home in California I’ll start something a little Cubistic and I can’t imagine where I got it from.
“Suddenly I’ll say, that’s it, and it will turn out to be my impressions of New York, the skyline of which is still beautiful, or a street or a corner near somewhere where I stayed.”
The transparent gown appears also on a new record by the singer called Somethin’ Groovy! and a few of these songs find their way to the floor of the Copa. “I have a song on the album with Toots Thielemans, an oldie called “Makin’ Whoopee,” she says. “We don’t do it the old way. We faked it a bit and then got going in a duet, and it got a bit tricky, more or less, and something happened and the result has me going with a guitar, whistles and a harmonica..
Miss Lee, who has become something of a legend in the musical field since she alighted on a song called “Why Don’t you Do Right?” and a bandleader named Benny Goodman, has cut scores of albums and has written many of her own songs. More recently, she added to her appearances by a bow in the North Dakota Hall of Fame.
“I am not trying to blow my own French horn,” she says, if one asks her about the Shankar-Beatle craze and the new wave of far-out instruments, “but we had the base flute doing different things several years ago and it is still popular today. We used the French horn in a new way when we recorded the Siamese cat song with Disney, and we used guitars differently, and used new figures in the brass section, and the reeds sometime back. To some extent, these instruments take the place of violin in a sort of tremulo and we use them in the usual way, as well.
“Awhile ago, I turned to acting in the Pete Kelly’s Blues film and as a result, people think that I am sadder than I actually am in real life,” she says. “I played the part of an alcoholic, a very sad girl and to this day I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance for equal time. I still get notes from the floor in nightclubs from people who start off, ‘I hear you have a problem.’
“One thing remains constant for me, whether I am giving a concert, living and experiencing a song in a nightclub, or singing for a recording. That is concentration about what the song means. That remains the same. Love must have an object, and it is the more gratifying and pleasing things that make me want to sing.”