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Delving into Peggy Lee's Steamy Mystique

Peggy Lee's most memorable tune was "Fever," slinky and inimitable. The 1958 hit encapsulates what many remember about the singer: her playful delivery, charisma and sexuality. Peter Richmond tells her story in a biography that borrows the song's title.

The woman who was to become the wise-to-the-world Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in North Dakota. She performed with Benny Goodman's orchestra before going on to record and write songs of her own. Hollywood beckoned, too: She earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of an alcoholic singer in 1955's Pete Kelly's Blues, opposite the future just-the-facts ma'am star of TV's Dragnet, Jack Webb.

When Lee died of a heart attack at age 81 in 2002, artists from k.d. lang to Diana Krall noted her influence on their own singing. Among her other hits: "Is That All There Is?" "Manana" and songs for Disney's Lady and the Tramp.

Lee published her own life story in 1989, but Richmond provides the first major biography of the singer. A family statement about Fever seems guarded but generally supportive of the effort, which delves into Lee's difficult childhood and four marriages, as well as her artistic drive.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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