PEGGY LEE – BLACK COFFEE
Released early 1956 – 60 years ago
Lee’s first true full-length, originally released in the 10” format in 1953 and later re-released with four additional songs as a 12” in 1956, is a primer in torch songs, characterized by slow-burn sultriness and class. Her alluring vocals, measured deliberate delivery, and breadth of material, make Lee one of the most captivating artists of the golden vocal jazz era.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4pm M-F on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar and curated by Kris Kerry. Each Monday at 4pm Kris stops by KXCI’s studio to give us insight on this classic album at 91.3FM and kxci.org.
Peggy Lee (born Norma Deloris Egstrom in 1920 in a small town in North Dakota) was a jazz singer, songwriter, composer and Hollywood actress. In a career that spanned six decades, she began singing with Benny Goodman’s big band in the 1940s. She forged a sophisticated persona both in the recording and movie industry.
One of eight children, she first sang on a local North Dakota radio station in the late 1930s (her late teens). She then toured regionally where she was “discovered” by Benny Goodman at a nightclub in Chicago in 1940 (she was 20).
During the early 1940s, Lee toured and recorded with Benny Goodman, and few singles and a 10” LP* on Capitol records.
*LP records were introduced by Columbia Records in 1948. These were initially made in 10” and 12” varieties, both played at 33 1/3 rpm and made on vinyl. 12” LPs could hold over 20 minutes of music on each sides, while 10” LPs could approximately 15 minutes of music on each side. The groves on these vinyl albums were much smaller and used a smaller needle. The sound of vinyl was way better than early records made from a shellac compound with larger grooves. With the larger grooves, they needed to be played at 78 rpm’s (why they are called 78s).
By the late 40s, Lee had become a household name, often appearing on the NBC radio’s Jimmy Durante Show and The Bing Crosby Show. She also was one of three rotating hosts on another NBC radio show, The Chesterfield Supper Club, with Perry Como and Jo Stafford.
In 1952, Lee signed with Decca Records. Black Coffee was her first release with Decca (as a 10”). It was re-released with four additional songs in 1956 as Lee’s first 12” album. Prior to Black Coffee, Lee had only recorded songs on 45 or 78 releases.
Neither the 1953 10” nor the 1956 12” release made any of the top album charts at the time, however with albums being a fairly new medium, album charts at the time rarely had more than 10 albums on the top list.
Black Coffee was recorded in three separate sessions in early 1953 at the Decca Studios in New York. The additional four songs for the 1956 12” release were recorded at the Decca Studios in Los Angeles in early 1956.
Cy Godfrey gets producer credit for Black Coffee. He also produced records for Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and also worked with Marlene Dietrich.
Joni Mitchell has been quoted as naming Black Coffee as one of her favorite albums.
Peggy Lee was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning Best Contemporary Vocal Performance for here 1969 hit “Is That All There Is?”. She won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.
While Lee didn’t write any of the songs on Black Coffee, she became quite the songwriter, collaborating with Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, and Mary McParland among others over the years. She also wrote several songs for Disney films, including co-writing all the songs with Sonny Burke for Lady and The Tramp. She also was the voice for four of the dogs in Lady and The Tramp (the human character, “Darling,” and the dog “Peg,” and the two Siamese cats “Si” and “Am.”).
In addition to here recording career and voiced-roles in Lady and The Tramp, Lee acted in several movies, including The Jazz Singer (1952) and Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Petty Lee was often referred to as “Miss Peggy Lee,” and was partly the inspiration for Jim Henson’s Muppet character Miss Piggy (ie, a stylish, self-assured blonde with a sense of romance).
After suffering years from diabetes and poor health, she died of a heart attack on January 21, 2002, at the age of 81.