Peggy Eason: Black, Blind, and Beautiful!

Peggy Eason will present her cabaret show I'll Show Them All at Don't Tell Mama in NYC on June 9th and 15th.
Peggy is a native New Yorker, having been born in Brooklyn. She wasn't supposed to be here. Her doctors told her parents that neither she or her twin would survive. At birth, she weighed two pounds and six ounces. Her twin only weighed one pound at birth. Unfortunately, she died after four days. Peggy survived! Peggy was a seven month baby.
She was supposed to be born in September, but was born in July. The only way they could save the lives of "preemies" at that time was to give extra oxygen. Peggy was told later that she had gotten too much oxygen. Because she was premature, her optic nerve did not develop. Because of that, she was unable to have a corneal transplant. She is the only one in her family who is blind. 
Peggy came into a family that included six brothers and four sisters.
Unfortunately, all of her brothers are gone except for one.  All of her sisters are still alive.
She had lots of fun growing up in Brooklyn.
Not only did she grow up with lots of brothers and sisters, she also had lots of cousins. She has fond memories of going to the beach. She was afraid of the sound of the ocean, but her family wanted her to
know what the waves and water felt like. One she got over that fear, she loved to play in the Ocean. They would go to Cony Island. They would walk on the boardwalk and eat knishes. Her grandmother was constantly teaching Peggy new things. She would tell Peggy that the others could see what she was doing but she had to show Peggy with her hands.
She taught Peggy how to roll out a pie crust with the rolling pin. Peggy never liked to get her hands dirty, but her grandmother insisted that she had to. Peggy recalls the smells of the kitchen especially around the holidays.
This was one strong family. In fact, they called themselves an army. Her grandmother had about sixty grandchildren.
Peggy grew up in the Marcy Projects,a public housing complex built and operated by the New York City Housing Authority and located in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The family moved there when Peggy was three. At that time, it was very integrated. They had a mix of everything. There were no racial problems. Peggy remembers the scent of fresh grass. They were not allowed on the grass. If someone walked on the grass, they could have been thrown out! She remembers the monkey bars. She used to love the monkey bars and remembers being with her childhood friend, Elaine. Elaine recently told Peggy that when they were kids, Peggy's mom told Elaine, "Please don't let Peggy get near the monkey bars." Not only did Peggy get near the monkey bars, she climbed to the top and decided she was going to stand on top. Elaine couldn't reach her because she was short. She told Peggy she was going to have to get down herself. Peggy really got it when she got home. She has fond memories of the people. Everyone was friendly to her. She went around the neighborhood alone, knowing it all so well. She didn't have a cane or a dog growing up and she got along fairly well. 
with Colleen Zenk

She went to the school for the blind in the Bronx, the Lavelle School.At the time that Peggy attended, it was called the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind.  
This was a Catholic school run by the Dominican nuns and, according to Peggy, they were tough!
Peggy went to high school at the New York Institute for the blind which was non-sectarian. From there, she went to college against everyone's advice. She attended to Manhattan School of Music where she majored in
voice and music education. From there, she went to work. She desired to sing but she also wanted to live. Throughout her life, she has had various occupations.
She worked as a typist for the Internal Revenue Service and the Jewish Guild for the Blind and The Hartford Insurance Company. For the last twenty-five years, before she retired, she was a secretary for The New York State Division For Parole. Throughout all of that time, Peggy always sang. She did mostly recitals for corporations and churches and private events. She is a classically trained singer. She has always sung. She first sang at age seven when her grandmother gave her three dollars to sing at one of her teas. That was her first professional engagement!
THIS chapter, as far as a career in cabaret is concerned, in Peggy's life really started in 2007. Peggy had mentioned to her husband, David, that she had heard about Linda Amiel Burns' Singing Experience on The Joey Reynolds radio show. She first heard about it in 1997! Year after year, she would tell David that she was going to take this class. After several years of procrastinating, she came home one day and David told her that he had just registered Peggy for The Singing Experience.
Peggy told him that she didn't have the time to take it. He told her that she was going to take it because he had already sent in a check. That is where the idea of cabaret all started.
When she first sang in the class, everyone kept telling her that she should do her own show. Being the competitive person she is, she said I CAN do it!
She didn't even know what cabaret was, but if it was something to conquer, she could do it. After six months of doing The Singing Experience, Peggy told Linda that she was writing a show, but didn't know what she was doing. She decided that she would base it on her life. The first show she did in cabaret was called Discover Me in 2007. Linda Amiel Burns directed her and Richard Danley was her musical director.
The Singing Experience WAS a good experience for Peggy in that she got a chance to meet some wonderful people. Ivan Farkas, Carol Shedlin, Laura Slutsky being three very important people to come out of that. They are all still very close. It was through Carol that Peggy met  her friend Michael Weiss, who is no longer with us.  He ended up producing Peggy's last CD.
She learned many things including how to hold a microphone. In classical music, she never used a microphone.
She also learned about different songs from the American Songbook. She also got some pretty good ideas of what to do and what not to do. Working with Linda was a great experience. She also loved working with Richard Danley. She says he is a fantastic accompanist.As a matter of fact, he arranged all the songs on her CD, Black, Blind, and Beautiful.  
Photo by Ivan Farkas
When Peggy retired in 2009, she said, "This is it! I'm going to pursue my singing career."
Peggy's upcoming show is called I'll Show Them All. All the songs are based on what Peggy has experienced in her life. The team to surround Peggy are now being put together at the time of this interview.
Peggy does not think of her blindness as a disability. She thinks of it as a slight inconvenience.
For Peggy, everything now is about creating memories. She has some pretty powerful ones already under her belt. 
For Peggy's graduation Master's recital from the Manhattan School of Music she was battling a 101 fever that day. Her feeling, however, was that the show must go on. After the show, she was greeting all of her guests. The very last guest was Leontyne Price! She waited until everyone had greeted
Leontyne Price
Peggy and then approached her and said, "Peggy, this is Leontyne Price." Peggy hit a high C! Peggy had sent her a letter hoping that she would accept.
She was someone that Peggy had always admired but never thought she would come to her recital. She told everyone not to tell Peggy that she was in the audience. She didn't want to make Peggy nervous. Peggy says it would have.
When Leontyne hugged Peggy and told her she had a voice, she felt like she had arrived. 
This next question comes from Sarah Dashew when I interviewed her.
What is Peggy's favorite season and how does that affect her?
Peggy's favorite season is the spring. For Peggy, that's when she comes alive. The spring has a certain feel to it. There is a fresh smell. Everything is new again. This is a chance to start all over again.
David (Peggy's husband) and Peggy with Bryon Sommers
Peggy says when she takes her last earthly breath, she hopes its in the spring.
Peggy is sort of worried about the state of cabaret today. Rooms are disappearing. There are very few rooms for artists to entertain in. Rooms have to be booked way in advance.
Otherwise, there may not be a place to sing when the time is right and that frightens Peggy. In the 80s, there were many options to choose from. Peggy is hoping that we are not seeing the demise of cabaret.
Peggy just completed, a few months ago, two nights at Stage 72 (The Triad). She was directed by Jeffry Denman (Yank! A World War II Love Story, Irving Berlin's White Christmas), and music direction by Emmy winner John McDaniel (Catch Me If You Can, Annie Get Your Gun).

Jeffrey or John had  neverworked with a blind singer before. There was a learning curve in how to communicate with Peggy. Peggy says that when she doesn't understand something, she must have a confused look about her. They quickly learned what each had to do. Jeffrey would close his eyes and imagine being in Peggy's shoes and work from there.
Because Peggy doesn't read music, John would put everything on tape for Peggy to work from.
Peggy is really looking forward to returning to Don't Tell Mama on Restaurant Row in NYC.
For a while David and Peggy lived in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. While there, she got a job singing in a local restaurant.She worked two nights a week and it was fabulous. It was an Italian Restaurant called Carlucci's.She worked Friday and Saturday nights singing for three hours each night. She really cashed in on the tips alone! She was loved and walked away with approximately three hundred dollars per set! She was also paid that same amount by the restaurant! She would love to find something like that in Manhattan!
Peggy has two favorite songs. The first is Defying Gravity from Wicked.That is her top favorite because everyone has told her her entire life what she couldn't do. She has constantly defied the odds. Ivan originally told Peggy about the song. Her other favorite song was written for her by David Conforte, Black, Blind, and Beautiful.
with Bryon Sommers
That song makes Peggy feel very good about herself and the inspiration came from the liner notes of a previous CD.
The most important lesson that Peggy has learned in this business is that talent is only one third of it. Everyone has to get out there and make yourself known. Good public relations is key. There are a lot of people out there who are less talented but they know a lot of people. They get out there somehow. Peggy used to think that talent was fifty percent of the equation. She is now thinking, from what she has heard, that talent is only a third.
with Maria Ottavia, Peggy Eason, Bryon Sommers, Marjorie Morris, Joan Hughes, Carol Siwek
You need someone behind you pushing you to get seen and heard.
Peggy's moniker is The Chocolate Diva. She also says chocolate is her greatest vice. She would kill for chocolate. She loves it so much.
Before Peggy walks out on stage, she says a little prayer, "God, you have given me a voice. Please help me use it.
As the World Turns' Collen Zenk, Peggy, David, Eileen Fulton, Dick Barclay, Hans Van Rittern, Richard Skipper

Peggy always has this nightmare that one day she will walk out on stage and nothing will come out.
Colleen Zenk, Peggy, Maria Ottavia
In addition to these upcoming performances at Don't Tell Mama, Peggy has been asked to close The Cabaret Convention on October 23rd. Klea Blackhurst will be hosting that evening celebrating Irving Berlin. Raissa Katonah Bennett  ran into Peggy at The MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) last month and there is a possibility of Peggy doing Music and Arts for City Greens on May 28th. (Rain date May 29th) as part of the Parks Concerts Series.
Peggy considers herself a good student of life. She listens and takes copious notes. She says she leaves nothing to memory at her age. She writes everything down.
Peggy is very proud to say she will be 67 on July 10th.
Her  life is a miracle.
Some of her friends haven't made it to this age. She is grateful for every day.
Her favorite composers are Rodgers and Hammerstein.
When Peggy was growing up, she didn't know many black artists on Broadway. They weren't as prevalent back then. Her grandmother took her to see Sammy Davis Jr. in Mr. Wonderful when she was younger. She remembers thinking to herself, "Wow! A black person starring on Broadway!" At that time, they were not called African Americans. A black person starring on Broadway was fascinating to Peggy!
Sammy Davis Jr. became a favorite of Peggy's. Another favorite of Peggy's was Robert Goulet. Robert became very encouraging to Peggy. When Peggy's previous husband died, Robert sent Peggy a message offering condolences. He told her he knew what it was like having lost his mother-in-law. He also told Peggy he knew she had a great singing career ahead. Discussions did happen years ago about Peggy opening for him. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition.
In addition to singing, Peggy helps others on the side. She writes letters and helps solve problems for them.
Photo credit: Ivan Farkas
Peggy believes God has put her on this earth to help and inspire people. That is what she really desires to do with her singing. She wants to inspire people. She desires to give hope to people who don't have hope. She doesn't care about awards or all the accolades that most artists strive for. What she does care for is whether the audience likes her and if they have been inspired.
Come to Don't Tell Mama on June 9th and BE INSPIRED!

June 9th and 15th, 2014
Don't Tell Mama
Peggy Eason: I'll Show Them All!
7PM pm

343 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036
 $20.00 cover charge and a 2 drink minimum per person
Don't Tell Mama  for tickets

Please visit Peggy Eason's Website for more info.

Let's start celebrating artists again rather than tearing them down.

Thank you ALL of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give! 

With grateful XOXOXs ,

Photo credit: Stephen Sorokoff

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