Retire? Not on your life. I have no plans to stop singing. What are you going to do when you love music? It's a terrible disease. You can't stop. Of course, I'd like to get off the road.
Now I want to take you back to 1971.
In 1971, I was 10 years old. My baby brother, John, was born in 1971, I remember the solar eclipse of 1971 and Walter Cronkite covering it on the news. I remember the moon landing that week also. I remember thinking that the astronauts must have done something to make that happen. On the radio, I was listening to Carole King:
Trevino was on the cover of Time Magazine.
I met Tricia Nixon when she came to our local college. She asked me to go home and ask my parents to vote for her dad. She was the first "celebrity" I remember meeting.
July 22nd, 1971 was a Thursday. Being a television household and me being a variety show junkie, I'm sure I watched The Flip Wilson Show that night and The Dean Martin Show.
The Flip Wilson Show was a variety show that aired in the U.S. on NBC from September 17, 1970 to June 27, 1974. The show starred American comedian Flip Wilson; the program was one of the first American television programs starring a black person in the title role to become highly successful with a white audience. Specifically, it was the first successful network variety series starring an African American. During its first two seasons, its Nielsen ratings made it the nation's second most watched show.
The Dean Martin Show was a TV variety-comedy series that ran from 1965 to 1974 for 264 episodes. It was broadcast by NBC and hosted by crooner Dean Martin. The theme song to the series was his 1964 hit "Everybody Loves Somebody."
Martin was initially reluctant to do the show, partially because he did not want to turn down movie and nightclub performances. His terms were deliberately outrageous: he demanded a high salary and that he need only show up for the actual taping of the show. To his surprise the network agreed. As daughter Deana Martin recalled after meeting the network and making his demands Martin returned home and announced to his family, "They went for it. So now I have to do it."
1971 was also significant because it is my first memory of hearing Peggy Lee. It was a Saturday night and my Grandmother Skipper and Aunt Mary and her two kids were going to the Holiday theatre in Conway to see LADY AND THE TRAMP. I begged my parents to let me go as well. I have very vivid memories of that night.
This was the third release of this film. the film premiered in 1955. Disney was a very smart business man and way before his time. All of his films were re-released periodically for new generations to enjoy. The film was reissued to theaters in 1962, 1971 (the year I saw it), 1980, and 1986, and on VHS and Laserdisc in 1987 (this was in Disney's The Classics video series) and 1998 (this was in the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection video series).
I loved the film! But I especially remember loving "Peg". Did I have good taste or what?
That was the beginning of my love affair with Peggy Lee! I tried to catch her whenever she appeared on TV. I actually started buying her albums. I remember my first Peggy Lee Album, "Is That All There Is?"
AKA Norma Deloris Egstrom
Birthplace: Jamestown, ND
Location of death: Bel Air, CA
Peggy Lee had a difficult start to her life, losing her mother by the age of four and being forced to endure both an alchoholic father and an abusive stepmother throughout the rest of her pre-adult years. While still in her teens, she began to gain some local recognition as a singer, and after graduating high school she made an unsuccessful attempt to establish herself in Hollywood. After a period supporting herself as a waitress and a carnival barker she returned to North Dakota and landed a job singing for a radio station in Fargo; it was during this time, at the recommendation of the station's manager, that she changed her name from Norma Egstrom to Peggy Lee.
Move ahead to February 11th, 1989, I was now 28. I was living in New York. It was a Saturday night and Peggy Lee was going to be playing at The Ballroom and I was dying to see her!
I still remember her band playing a very jazzy medley of her hits. The lights dimming, and then the announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Peggy Lee". She poked out her head from behind the curtains and then retreated back. That got a big laugh. She slowly walked out, this time without her now famous trademarked glasses. She was also wearing black. She had trouble walking at this time. She made her way to a director's chair center stage. Age and many setbacks health wise had taken its toll on her physicality, but NOT her voice."Good evening: Are you enjoying yourselves? That's the whole idea. (Wind chimes as light goes down to black.) She starts to sing, "I won't dance, don't ask me".
It was like listening to my records. She STILL had it! For her appearance for this show, she wrote a whole new section: a history of the blues.
This time, she was returning to the true roots of her music, not of her life.
Peggy Lee continues, "I love the blues. They came out of the jails...in from the fields...little snatches of life...and sometimes, it helped to sing...it was a release...an expression of the soul...and the street vendors were a part of it...(ensemble underscoring)
The journey took us back to the places that, on the inside, she'd never really left -to New Orleans, for example.
After a nodid to the music of the chain gangs, where the script calls for "hammer on steel, sounds of chains and footsteps of convicts," she took the occasion to give her final public salute to the people who had written the music that had launched her career:
"Those people who wrote, and are still writing, these blues-these blues, artists, they are, just as surely as the French painters who exchanged ideas and colors from their palettes."
Think of this blog as an appetizer! Appetizers are food items served before the main courses of a meal.
The main meal is being served tonight in New Hope, Pennsylvania! A HOT way to COOL OFF tonight!
An encore presentation of one of the most popular concerts that I saw over the past few years, A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee," will be presented for New Hope music fans at Bob Egan's New Hope tonight at 8:30 pm.
2008 MAC Award Winner
2008 NY Nightlife Award Finalist
“Watching a singer like Jeanne MacDonald, who brings an emotional balance; a subtle, goodhumored sexiness; and an originality to everything she sings, makes you realize the crucial role good instincts play...”
NEW YORK TIMES - Stephen Holden
Jeanne MacDonald has earned a reputation as one of NY’s finest singers in cabaret today; an honest interpreter of the lyric in a genre that embraces a broad range of songs from the American popular music tradition. Peter Leavy of Cabaret Scenes Magazine calls MacDonald “a lyricist’s dream.” MacDonald often creates through her work a seamless blend between traditional standards from such songwriters as Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, and the music of contemporary songwriters, including Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman and Dar Williams. Most recently, in ‘Come Back To Me,’ her glowing celebration of Miss Peggy Lee, MacDonald proves herself an artist with both the sensibility and sensitivity to convey the essence of this legend, weaving her spell with finesse.
Jeanne has earned extensive recognition for her performances both in and out of New York City. She was the 2008 MAC Award Winner for Female Vocalist and 2008 NY Nightlife Finalist, both of which she received in 2004 as well. She has earned the BACK STAGE Bistro, the MAC Hanson Award and in 2005 was presented with the Julie Wilson Award for excellence in cabaret on the stage at Jazz at Lincoln Center. MacDonald’s debut CD “Company,” produced and arranged by long time musical director/arranger Rick Jensen, received outstanding critical praise and the MAC Nomination for Recording of the Year.
Originally from Freeport, Long Island, NY, Jeanne MacDonald is a graduate of the Crane School of Music. Her education and performing experience encompass a wide range of performance styles, from jazz to classical to musical theater. Jeanne developed her artistry at the celebrated Bradstan Country Hotel in White Lake, NY where she recorded her CD, “Live At The Bradstan.” Appearing frequently in NYC, MacDonald has performed in venues such as the renowned Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, the FireBird Cafe’, The Hideaway Room at Helen’s and in the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Annual Cabaret Convention. Jeanne makes regular NYC appearances on the stage of the beautiful Metropolitan Room in Chelsea.
Peggy Lee is included on one of my favorite movie soundtracks, Sharky's Machine (1981) along with Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams, Flora Purim, Buddy de Franco, Julie London, Doc Severinson, Randy Crawford, Chet Baker and Eddie Harris. Peggy performs Let's Keep Dancing. The album by itself was a major event.
Jeanne MacDonald - Celebrates Miss Peggy Lee
John Hoglund – TheaterScenes.net
“…MacDonald's latest show, an exceptional tribute to Ms. Lee…
With multi-talented Rick Jensen as musical director/arranger of the trio, MacDonald weaved visceral, warm hearted images in this homage to one of the last century's most influential blues and jazz interpreters. Like Lee, she strips away the sham and offers readings that are funny, poignant or deeply honest expressions of the singer's soul…
The hour was dotted with humorous and wry anecdotes lifted from the life of this unique entertainer who was also an actress and songwriter of note. One reason the show works on every level is that there are subtle parallels between Lee's soft style delivery and this uncomplicated singer…
…she weaves a similar, languid, insouciant manner fused with a yearning that is engaging and forthright. Those same qualities were staples of Peggy Lee…
(MacDonald) turns classic love ditties and fun tunes into a running dialogue about the truth and fiction of romance, heart break and life's ironies in a warm-hearted melange.
“Come Back To Me” is witty, intense and deeply respectful of the subject at hand. MacDonald has been rewarded by her peers in cabaret. Now, it's time to expand that group and reach a wider audience. In a world filled with non-lyrics permeating the airwaves and dance emporiums, MacDonald is a breath of fresh air.”
Rob Lester – Cabaret Exchange
“…Peggy/Jeanne is maybe not the obvious match, but if you know both ladies’ work, think again. The word “subtle” is key to both their styles. Neither gushes or is histrionic, wallowing and thrashing in the deep end of the emotion-drenched pool. They communicate feelings, but with discretion and taste and with no bellowing or grandstand belting. It’s a nice reminder that less is more, more or less.
Projecting a keen intelligence and a gracious way with a song, with thoughtful phrasing, Jeanne also more than just suggests a kind human spirit. She doesn’t try to be a pedantic, pompous Peggy professor, but we learn some things about the icon and her music…
Fortunately, it doesn’t just feel like a Greatest Hits list of only obvious choices. Several of the signature tunes and commercial hits are placed in a major medley so that there is time for others. The ones that were most satisfying when I caught the act on its earlier go-round (late last year) were often those co-written by Peggy Lee, such as “The Shining Sea” and “Johnny Guitar.” Songs allowing for vulnerability were often successful, and balance was found with some swingers…
An affectionate salute, part of the secret to its success is simply that Peggy Lee sang and co-wrote a whole lot of wonderful and classic songs over her long career. So, they’re good to hear anytime, with enough of them just in the standard, still-sung category so that the show has appeal to more than just the Peggy Lee fan club.“
Jeanne MacDonald - Celebrates Miss Peggy Lee
"She sings Peggy Lee if you please, she sings Peggy Lee if you don't please!"
Cabaret Exchange.com -- A Cabaret Review By M Levovitz
“ Who better than the brilliant Jeanne MacDonald to resurrect the spirit of Miss Peggy Lee as something greater than any of these past reincarnations? Ms MacDonald, with her razor-sharp vocal instincts, and perfect worship of Lee's lyrics, remembers Peggy Lee by rejecting any caricature and instead celebrates her as something truly special, as one amazing real woman…
…the brilliance of Miss Lee was actually found in her incredible sense of restraint. Seldom even moving her hands while she sang, she mastered the art of the subtle sexual swoon. Oozing class and beauty, her career in show business as a big band singer, jazz musician, nightclub performer, pop star, and acclaimed lyricist spanned almost five decades, from the early ‘40s to the ‘80s…
We begin to understand that besides a great voice and wonderful performer, Jeanne MacDonald is a superb vehicle to re-introduce us to the art of Lee's lyrics and, through them, to get us closer to Lee than we ever have been…
Humor is MacDonald's secret weapon and she uses it with an empowering amount of self-control. Later in the evening, when she sings “Mañana” a perfect Latina accent, there isn't a frown in the room…
At any given moment, she stares directly at you and you are completely disarmed. She isn't afraid to look deep into the eyes of any willing audience member. When this happens, her voice, lyric, and intention have free reign over your body, which is the essence of sexiness…
MacDonald controls some of this sweetness, to arrive at a sound with enough edge to sell jazz, but with enough warmth to tug at your insides. This is exemplified brilliantly with “Black Coffee” and the wonderful “Johnny Guitar.”
Jeanne MacDonald’s vocals provide the smoothest and milkiest manifestation of Lee's old standards. She then imbibes them with a double shot of raw humanity. Much like the vodka in my drink, it was the humanity that I was left feeling hours after the performance. The show was as classy and entertaining as a New York City night could be…”
GO SEE JEANNE TONIGHT~ YOU'LL THANK ME TOMORROW!
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Tomorrow's blog will be a celebration of Summer Stock with an emphasis on Lenny Watts in The Drowsey Chaperone at Theatre By The Sea in Matunick, Rhode Island and Jenny Lynn Stewart as in The Sound of Music with The Regal Players in Boston!
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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com