“ I care about her art, genius, musicality, and reputation.” Stacy Sullivan
“I Like Men: Celebrating 102 Years of Miss Peggy Lee
A benefit for The Mabel Mercer Foundation
June 3, 2022 at 7:00 pm
At a charity event in 2008, Sidney Myer (performer, booker, mentor, and beating heart of Don’t Tell Mama) told actress/vocalist Stacy Sullivan she should do a Peggy Lee show. “When I was pregnant with my daughter, I did an evening with Paul Horner who co-wrote with Peggy Lee and co-wrote the musical Peg. I fell in love with her as a songwriter.” (Sullivan)
Familiar with the artist as an icon (jazz and popular music vocalist, songwriter, composer, and actress, over a career spanning seven decades), but historically only as an older woman, she wondered about Myer’s recommendation. As his insight has long carried weight in the business, Sullivan knew she should take the idea seriously. (Myer tells me she resembled a young Peggy Lee. “…Her blonde beauty and serene smile…”)
She mentioned Myer’s remark to a friend who promptly sent her Fever: The LIfe and Music of Peggy Lee by Peter Richmond. “It became my Bible,” Stacy says. Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota (on May 26, 1920), the seventh of the eight children. Sullivan was the seventh child in her Boggy Depot Oklahoma family. Lee longed to get out of rural South Dakota the same way Sullivan longed to get out of rural Oklahoma… “It was kind of a dog whistle,” she comments. “I had an immediate attraction to her life.”
The performer watched dozens of YouTube videos. “…the sheer joy of her as a young woman!.. her mother died when she was very young and I’m such a mother! At some point, I wanted to mother her!.. She also messed with arrangements so people would hear things in a new way which is something I’ve always loved to do.” It’s natural for this performer to sing quietly like Lee. People lean into her spell.
Three year later, It’s a Good Day appeared at The Metropolitan Room (RIP), then St. Peter’s Church where I saw and wrote about it. (The subsequent CD is excellent.) Lee’s granddaughter and conservator, Holly Foster Wells, had been schooled to take over the foundation, traveling with her grandmother beginning at six, holding her hand during last days. As a matter of course, she received a ding on her computer which lead to my glowing review. Wells decided to see for herself and drove to Pasadena to attend Sullivan’s show. She introduced herself herself afterwards; the two began a fruitful friendship.
As Sullivan took the show to California, Wisconsin, Chicago, North Carolina, North Dakota (to the opening of The Peggy Lee Museum), Hawaii, London and Mexico (over 120 concerts), Lee’s family sometimes turned up. In fact, Well’s father, Dick Foster, produced what became a revised version for Mexico featuring, at his request, hits like “Fever,” “Is That All There Is?” and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” not included in the original. (Today’s iteration is an amalgam.)
“Peggy Lee was for me when everything came together as an artist. She gave me permission to be me,” Sullivan says with passion. Clearly the family recognized the quality of this singular attachment as well as the talent it represented.
I Like Men was originally scheduled before the pandemic. It would have lead the pack. 2022 is a year with multiple Peggy Lee tributes. The artist had few female friends. Her work was predominantly performed by women. Ever pushing envelopes, Sullivan has created a show featuring 11 male vocalists inspired by the song “I Like Men”: I like the masculine, I like the mind/And I like any other kind that I can find…I like men!
I asked some of those featured about their relationship to Peggy Lee:
“Ever since I started listening to the music of the 1940’s, I’ve been inspired by the legendary Peggy Lee. She was the consummate performer, beautiful, talented, not to mention a fierce business woman! Later in life she took on Disney in a lawsuit, and won!!! Any man woman or child, who can do that is a force to be reckoned with!” – Danny Bacher
“It takes a certain confidence in singing and expressing yourself to pull off Lee’s brand of sensuality. She exudes a vulnerability coupled with desire creating a constant subtext to her singing. As a vocalist, I admire her delivery. No matter how soft or subtle, it’s connected to something deep and true. She’s never just giving us effect for effect’s sake. It is always coming from a place of honesty. I also think she must have been a amazing kisser.”- Todd Murray
“I first saw the peerless Miss Peggy Lee – “Live And In Person!” – at Cherry Hill, New Jersey’s Latin Casino early 1960’s. This began a 30 year love affair of enchanted evenings played out in a myriad of venues: Central Park Under The Stars, The Waldorf Astoria’s Empire Room, Radio City Music Hall, Valley Forge Music Fair Tent, Broadway’s `Peg’, The Ballroom, Club 53, and her final Carnegie Hall triumph. She never failed to mesmerize and move me, casting her magic spell whatever the setting.” –Sidney Myer
“As a singer, I like `hot’ and Peggy always was the personification of `cool’. However, when I saw Stacy do her Peggy Lee show, I recognized the merit in a lot of the songs. She makes me get Peggy Lee in a way that Miss Lee herself never could. So, for the first time in my life, I’ll be singing a song written by Peggy Lee— proving that you’re never too old!! (I hope.)” – Mark Nadler
“An icy hot mix at a mic, like cold fusion in a killer silhouette, all that combustion in repose. Economy and danger, satin and exposed nerves. That’s what Peggy Lee conjures for me and no one on Earth but Stacy Sullivan can best honor the great lady’s style and substance.” – Eric Yves Garcia
June 3 promises to be a special event. I gather orchestra seating is almost sold out.
Peggy Lee had four husbands, one child and a legendary, seven decade career that featured recording, authoring 200 songs, and performing at clubs, in concert, on radio, in film, and on television. Coined “the female Frank Sinatra” by Tony Bennett (she was flattered), Lee was embraced by both jazz and pop icons as one of their own. In the works are a television biopic and a reissue of Lee’s autobiography which adds material.
With Todd Murray, Sullivan is currently preparing I’m Glad There is You, a show about the relationship between Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. Hopefully it will come into New York.
Opening Photo- Left by Helane Blumfield; Right by permission of Peggy Lee Associates LLC
“I Like Men: Celebrating 102 Years of Miss Peggy Lee
Stacy Sullivan, Host
Danny Bacher, Robert Creighton, Steven Davis, Darius de Haas, Eric Yves Garcia
Nicholas King, Todd Murray, Sidney Myer, Mark Nadler, Chuck Sweeney, Gary Williams
Tickets: Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall