Norman Vickers


IS THAT ALL THERE IS? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

Written By James Gavin

Atria Books

© 2014, pp.601

This interesting book about the life of vocalist Peggy Lee gives fascinating insights into the life of this iconic jazz vocalist.  I have mentioned previously the sign in our local hospital’s medical library which stated, “ Any book is new until you have read it.”  Such is the case here.  I came across the title somewhere and was intrigued to search out the book.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Peggy Lee

Gavin is a prolific writer and researcher.  He was won awards for his journalistic efforts.  He has two previous books.  One is the life of trumpeter Chet Baker and the other is the life of vocalist Lena Horne.

The book is well written and the story flows smoothly.  There is no clutter with footnotes or numeric endnotes.  However, there are 43 pages detailed endnotes giving sources and clarification.

Gavin tells the story of Norma Deloris Egstrom, daughter of a North Dakota railroad worker whose mother dies early in Norma’s childhood.  There is conflict with stepmother and, according to Peggy Lee’s story, physical abuse by the evil stepmother.  

We learn that music is an escape valve for the vocalist who early in her career gets a name change to Peggy Lee, works for an irascible and hard-to-please bandleader Benny Goodman. She falls in love with the band’s guitarist, Dave Barbour.  She and Barbour have one daughter and are together just shy of eight years before they divorce.

The author takes us through her career as vocalist as well as a starring role in the movie, Pete Kelly’s Blues. We learn too about her talent in songwriting as well as her subsequent three marriages. She was a non-discriminatory lover in that the had many transient affairs including some of her band-members including Quincy Jones and drummer Grady Tate.

Readers learn too about her dominating personality during her private life.  As she goes along during her married life, intervals between marriage and divorce get increasingly shorter.  However, her public appeal seems to continue until her death at 82.

For our local readers, you will be pleased to know that this and the other two books by James Gavin will soon be available for check-out in the Jazz Room at Pensacola’s downtown West Florida Public Library.

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