Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

by James Gavin


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From the author of the “definitive” (Vanity Fair) biography of Lena Horne, Stormy Weather, comes a brilliantly written portrait of recording artist and musical legend Peggy Lee.

“She made you think that she knew who you were, that she was singing only to you...”

Miss Peggy Lee cast a spell when she sang. She purred so intimately in nightclubs that couples clasped hands and huddled closer. She hypnotized, even on television. Lee epitomized cool, but her trademark song, “Fever”—covered by Beyoncé and Madonna—is the essence of sizzling sexual heat. Her jazz sense dazzled Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. She was the voice of swing, the voice of blues, and she provided four of the voices for Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, whose score she co-wrote. But who was the woman behind the Mona Lisa smile?

With elegant writing and impeccable research, including interviews with hundreds who knew Lee, acclaimed music journalist James Gavin offers the most revealing look yet at an artist of infinite contradictions and layers. Lee was a North Dakota prairie girl who became a temptress of enduring mystique. She was a singer-songwriter before the term existed. Lee “had incredible confidence onstage,” observed the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop; yet inner turmoil wracked her. She spun a romantic nirvana in her songs, but couldn’t sustain one in reality. As she passed middle age, Lee dwelled increasingly in a bizarre dreamland. She died in 2002 at the age of eighty-one, but Lee’s fascination has only grown since.

This masterful account of Peggy Lee’s strange and enchanting life is a long overdue portrait of an artist who redefined popular singing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451641684
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 11/11/2014
Pages: 608
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

James Gavin is the author of Deep in a Dream, Intimate Nights, and Stormy Weather. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Time Out New York, among other publications. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Is That All There Is?

“When she wanted me to play bluesy she’d say, ‘Trains,’?” recalled one of Lee’s musicians. The Midland Continental depot at Jamestown, North Dakota, c. 1910.

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Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Larson99 More than 1 year ago
A wonderful bio of a very complicated and very talented musician. Peggy Lee was one of the top singers of her time. A graduate of the 1940s/early 50s big bands, she became one of the most popular singers of the 1950s and early 60s. Gavin's book is a detailed chronicle of her life, from North Dakota to Hollywood with stops on the road and in New York.   She was one of the last big band singers of the 1940s who made the transition to the more modern sounds of 50s and 60s jazz and nightclubs.  James Gavin artfully charts her conquests and her defeats both artistic and personal.  Her story touches on complex midwestern roots, the lure of Hollywood glamour, the history and evolution of mid-century jazz/pop music, the growth of television as a new medium of exposure, her husbands, and the broad mix of characters, hostile and friendly, who populated the scene. The author has done years of exhaustive research, finding and interviewing old school friends of Lee, many musicians who worked with her and survivors of the demi-mondes of nightclub and recording scenes on both coasts and more.   This is a long overdue, well-written profile of a legendary America singer. 
JudithK More than 1 year ago
A complicated lady - Peggy Lee.  James Gavin's biography of Peggy Lee is a well-written book written with the cooperation of Ms. Lee's friends and family members.  It clarifies some of the confusion left in the wake of Ms. Lee's autobiography, which is appreciated.   Worth reading.  (Note:  check out You Tube for audio and video clips of Ms. Lee while reading this book.)