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92Y Lyrics & Lyricists Series: "Give Me Fever: The Many Voices of Peggy Lee"
By: Linda Amiel Burns
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Tom Hubbard, Billy Stritch, Marilyn Maye, Barbara Fasano, La Tonya Hall
and Gabrielle Stravelli in as they appeared in Give Me Fever: The Many
Voices of Peggy Lee
(Photo credit: Richard Termine)

The Lyrics & Lyricist Series at the 92nd Street Y presented Give Me Fever: The Many Voices of Peggy Lee with the talented Billy Stritch serving as artistic director, host and co-writer with director Mark Waldrop, musical director on piano. He also sang with the cast of three gal vocalists, Barbara Fasano, La Tanya Hall and Gabrielle Stravelli and “special guest,” the one and only Marilyn Maye. The band could not have been better with three superb musicians, John Hart on guitar, Tom Hubbard on bass and Ray Marchica on drums.

Billy opened the concert with a medley of “Things Are Swinging” (1958- lyrics Peggy Lee/music Jack Marshall) and “It’s a Good, Good Night (1957 – lyrics & music Peggy Lee). Peggy Lee was an American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer and actress who had a career that spanned six decades. He explained that this was a celebration of “Peggy Lee’s words – the ones by other writers that she made uniquely her own and the hits she actually penned herself.”

Peggy was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota, the seventh of eight children. Her father was a station agent for Midland Continental Railroad and Peggy always loved and sang songs about trains. La Tanya illustrated this with “Waitin’ for The Train to Come In” (1945-Sunny Skylar & Martin Block). Lee’s mother died when she was only four and her alcoholic father married a woman who treated her with great cruelty. As a result, Peggy decided to develop her musical talent while taking several part-time jobs so that she could be away from home. At age 17 she changed her name to Peggy Lee and traveled to Los Angles to seek her fortune. The first big break came in 1941 when Benny Goodman heard her sing at The Buttery Room at the Ambassador Hotel East in Chicago. He was looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest who had just left the band. She sang with Goodman’s band for two years until 1943. She fell in love and married guitarist Dave Barbour. Goodman had a strict rule about band members fraternizing with the girl singers. When Barbour was fired, Lee quit the band.

Barbara Fasano sang a lovely rendition of “These Foolish Things” (1936-Maschwitz/Strachey), which was Lee’s audition song. Barbara and Billy dueted on “I Don’t Know Enough about You” that Peggy wrote with Barbour. Barbara also scored on “But Beautiful” (1947-Burke/Van Heusen) and “The Shining Sea” a song that Peggy wrote with Johnny Mandel for the film The Russians Are Coming.

La Tanya Hal sang a sultry “Black Coffee (1948-Webster/Burke) and “He’s a Tramp” that Peggy wrote for the film Lady and The Tramp written with Sonny Burke. She used her jazz chops on “I’m Gonna Go Fishin,” a song Peggy wrote with Duke Ellington in 1959.

Gabrielle Stravelli did a great job on Peggy’s first hit “Why Don’t You Do Right” (1936- Kansas Joe McCoy) along with a terrific rendition of “Lover” (Rodgers & Hart) – a song that Peggy wrote the arrangement for that Rodgers didn’t approve of until it became a hit. Gabrielle showed her vocal chops on a jazzy “Day In, Day Out” (1939 –Mercer/Bloom).

Billy has never been in better voice and demonstrated that with “There’ll be Another Spring” (1959 – Lyrics Peggy Lee/Music Hubie Wheeler) and the fun hit “Alright, Okay, You Win” (1955 Watts & Wyche). He also performed a little known gem that Peggy wrote with Paul Horner in 1983, “There Is More,” as sort of response to “Is That All There Is?”

However, it was Marilyn Maye who stole the show. At nearly 85 years young, she still shows them all how it should be done. Looking every inch the star in a stunning black sequined outfit, she sang “I Love Being Here with You” (1960 – lyrics Peggy Lee/music Bill Schluger) and then brought the audience to tears with “When The World Was Young.” Next came two Leiber and Stoller hits: “Is That All There is?,” that Peggy championed as no one wanted to record it, and then Marilyn and La Tanya performed a sensational duet of “I’m A Woman,” with additional lyrics by Marilyn. Again, Marilyn rocked the room with “Hallelujah I Love Him So” by Ray Charles and then sang and acted a tender duet with Billy, “Just for A Thrill” (1936-Armstrong/Raye).

The entire cast sang the fun 1948 hit “Manana” that Peggy wrote with Dave Barbour, each taking turns on the different verses using Spanish accents. The show closed with “It’s a Good Day,” the hit that Peggy and Dave wrote together in 1946.

There are very few woman singer/songwriters who deserved this tribute more. In her 60-year-long career, Peggy Lee was the recipient of three Grammy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award), an Academy Award nomination, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award, the President's Award, the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Living Legacy Award from the Women's International Center. In 1999, Lee was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame . Congratulations to Billy Stritch and everyone involved in this wonderfully produced production.

The next concert in the series is on April 6-8: Taking a Chance on Love: The Music of Vernon Duke with David Loud serving as the Artistic Director and host.

Lyrics & Lyricist Series: Give Me Fever: The Many Voices of Peggy Lee (February 23-25, 2013)
92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-415-5500 or visit http://www.92Y.org/Lyrics

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