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I. Contents And Scope
This miscellaneous page is an outgrowth of the discography's Benny Goodman Sessions page. Most of the information to be found below was transferred from that page's session notes to this page's sections. The transferred information falls mainly under the categories of historical data and anecdotal narratives centering on Peggy Lee's tenure with The Benny Goodman Orchestra. Data of a more strictly discographical bent (i.e., details about personnel, recorded masters, album releases, etc.) was kept in the Goodman sessions page. The relocation of data was made as part of an effort to shorten the overwhelming length of the session notes -- not to say anything of the sizable quantity of releases listed throughout that page.
Consult the present text if you are in search of particular details about the entire period that Peggy Lee spent working as a canary with The Benny Goodman Orchestra, from her hiring to her departure. This is also the location for the events that transpired during the recording sessions themselves. You will find here an ongoing narrative about how a nervous, harried Lee suffered and underperformed through Goodman's Chicago debut dates, only to subsequently flourish at Goodman's New York dates -- by showing an increasing amount of self-assuredness and initiative as time went by. Covered in these paragraphs as well are two significant musical-historical events from her Goodman period: (1) the American Federation of Musicians's recording ban; (2) Frank Sinatra's -- and, by extension, the vocalists' -- rise in popularity over the big bands.
II. Benny Goodman's Hiring Of Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee joined The Benny Goodman Orchestra in mid-August 1941, while the band was playing at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. The orchestra's month-long engagement at the Panther Room of the hotel's College Inn had started on July 25 and would conclude on August 28. For the duration, Goodman -- mindful of the crowds and the publicity hounds -- stayed not at the Sherman but at another hotel with the same management, The Ambassador East. Across the street from the Ambassador East was its 'twin,' The Ambassador West, yet another hotel with the same management. At the West's Buttery Room, summer resident thrush Peggy Lee could be heard every evening, accompanied by a quartet called The Four Of Us.
Also staying at The Ambassador hotels was the soon-to-be Mrs. Benny Goodman (née Alice Hammond, though known then as Lady Alice Duckworth, due to her previous marriage). Shortly after seeing Peggy Lee performing at The Buttery Room, Alice Hammond told Benny Goodman that he should go check Lee's show, too. The couple came into the Room along with a party that included the band's young pianist, Mel Powell. Decades later, Lee remembered singing "These Foolish Things" on that evening. As he dined with the rest of the party, Goodman listened to the singer with a preoccupied look, which she misinterpreted as lack of interest. Amidst his party, Goodman was heard to mumble the words "I guess we've got to get somebody for Helen."
On August 1, 1941, Goodman had received a resignation notice from his current canary, Helen Forrest. (Billboard magazine would make it public in its August 16, 1941 issue.) A very unhappy Forrest was adamant about leaving the band as soon as possible, stipulating that her resignation was effective immediately. (Or so wrote the singer in her autobiography, which abundantly displays how profoundly she disliked Goodman's personality.) However, Forrest's contract forced her to stay until the end of this engagement, which, on the first of August, had barely started. Her resignation on early August notwithstanding, extant remotes from the Sherman engagement reveal that Forrest was still singing with the band as late as Sunday, August 10. (Perhaps, faced with Goodman's unwillingness to release her from the contract, she had agreed to the equivalent of a two weeks' notice. Then again, a program log for August 17 indicates that she sang at that late date, too -- i.e., after Lee was already on board. But maybe that Sunday was a special, exceptional occasion. Since the major networks had special, sponsored band music shows on Sundays, it is possible that Forrest couldn't escape expectation on that particular day. Be that as it may, Forrest was leaving, and the band had held a canary virtually since its inception.)
Normally, a bandleader in need of a new canary would have held auditions. Goodman certainly did so on many occasions, and he might have done so this time, too. Granted that he was on the road and thus away from the capitols of the music industry (New York & Hollywood), such a large and musically rich city as Chicago would have still been a viable location to hold fruitful auditions. In fact, Anita O'Day reports in her autobiography that she unsuccessfully auditioned for Goodman, who ended up hiring Peggy Lee instead. If O'Day's recollection is accurate, Goodman might have also seen additional candidates, none of them presumably to his full liking.
On the very next morning after Goodman had come to see her at The Buttery Room (according to some accounts, Miss Lee received a phone call from The King Of Swing himself. Goodman asked Lee to join his band right away, and to come ready to sing with them at The Panther Room of the Sherman's College Inn. Such short notice could be taken as a vote of confidence from Goodman, based on what he had just seen and heard her do at the Buttery Room. For Lee, the prospect was a dream come true. She was to perform with an act that she had long admired and which, even more importantly, ranked among the top bands in the nation.
From a professional standpoint, the situation was far from ideal, however. Lee was being asked to come sing without any previous rehearsal, and was expected to handle arrangements which were tailored not to her but to Helen Forrest's key. During the ensuing two weeks, Lee would also be facing a hostile audience which, having arrived expecting to listen to the highly praised stylings of Helen Forrest, was understandably displeased at the dashing of its expectations.
To make matters worse, Forrest herself, in the flesh, would be silently sitting right next to Lee (and to the band's male vocalist, Tommy Taylor) during these Panther Room engagements. Resistant to doing any further singing under Goodman's leadership, Forrest had opted for fulfilling her contractual obligation by attending the concerts, per Goodman's request, but without any active participating in them. Patrons of course asked why the hugely popular canary was not singing. According to Forrest, Goodman lied without compunction, telling them that she was suffering from a bad cold or from laryngitis.
Not surprisingly, Goodman's new canary was struck with stage fright and with what she later described as a psychosomatic cold. Despite the fright, she carried on, performing "My Old Flame" and other songs on that debut evening. But the heightened discomfort affected the quality of her singing. Chicago critics were dismissive. Lee also fell under the impression that the band members were not talking to her.
Feeling that she had done a poor job, an embarrassed and tearful Lee asked Goodman to let her go. He refused. (The exact day on which she made her request is unclear. I am inclined to believe that it happened on the first night, or otherwise in one of the subsequent nights.)
A few days after the hiring date, Peggy Lee was also asked to participate in what became her debut recording session -- and, just a few more days afterwards, on her sophomore session. Those two sessions (August 15 and 20, 1941) were marred by the singer's high state of anxiety, yet they still produced recordings good enough to be deemed worth releasing. Meanwhile, the August 23, 1941 issue of Billboard magazine was announcing her incorporation to the orchestra, as follows: "Benny Goodman takes on chirper Peggy Lee to replace Helen Forrest . .. Miss Lee was caught by Benny at Chi's Ambassador West Hotel, where she vocalized with a musical combo, the Four of Us."
Despite the temporarily adverse reception that the nervous singer met from audiences, from critics, from band members and even from the sessions' producer (as explained in more detail below), Benny Goodman stuck to his guns and took the singer on the road with the band -- at a pay cut, however -- while they moved from Chicago to the New York - New Jersey area.
In her new East Coast setting, Benny Goodman's new canary would flourish, first in the recording studio and subsequently in front of the Big Apple's live audiences. She would become friendly with her fellow bandmembers, finding a kindred spirit in pianist Mel Powell and even an appointed bodyguard in saxophonist Vido Musso. Critics would begin to lavish her with praise, too. But the events mentioned in this paragraph are part of Lee's future; I would like to first cover her Chicago sessions, and to speculate about the exact day on which she started out with the band.
III. Peggy Lee's Starting Date As The Canary Of Benny Goodman And His Orchestra
Peggy Lee worked as the female vocalist of The Benny Goodman Orchestra for over a year and a half (mid-August 1941 to mid-March 1943). The exact day on which Lee joined and left the band are unknown; in this section, I will attempt to arrive at estimates for the debut date.
Lee's documented appearances with the band can be traced back to [a] Friday, August 15, 1941 (debut recording session) and [b] Sunday, August 24, 1941 (earliest live performance to survive, in the form of a radio broadcast.)
Lee's autobiography does not give any specific dates, but the singer's narration of events suggests that her first performance with the orchestra was a live engagement -- not the recording session from August 15. The autobiography also contains a direct quote from pianist Mel Powell in which he declares, in passing, that Lee had spent just one or two days with the band before she went with them into the studio, for her debut recording session. It is not clear, however, if the pianist meant his "one-or-two-days" remark to be taken as a precise, accurate bit of information, or if it should instead be deemed a loose estimation on Powell's part.
In my estimation, Peggy Lee is likely to have debuted with Goodman on the bandstand in one of four days, between Monday, August 11 and Thursday, August 14, 1941.
As previously mentioned, Helen Forrest had given notice of resignation in or around August 1, 1941. While her last recording session with Goodman had taken place back in June, she was still heard on at least two August broadcasts from the Sherman Hotel, one from the 8th and the other from the 10th of that month. Bio-discographer D. Russell Connor elaborates: "Although Helen does not again record with Benny, she continues to appear with him, both in the Sherman and on the House Warming [radio] programs and sustaining broadcasts. According to a program log, she did so as late as August 17, two days after Peggy Lee had made her first record with the band. That is her last logged performance, but she claims Benny had her sit on the bandstand until the end of the Sherman engagement [August 28], but did not permit her to sing. Benny says he does not remember it that way."
Since Forrest was still being heard in the Sherman Hotel remotes from the second Friday and the second Monday of August, I am inclined to believe that she was the band's only female vocalist until the tenth at least. As for the sustaining broadcast from Sunday, August 17 that supposedly features Forrest, no songs are listed in the program log that Russell Connor consulted. The lack of specifics allows for speculation as to the accuracy of the information entered in the log. Forrest could have been present but, contrary to log indications, she could have abstained from singing. Alternatively, the log's information might be accurate, of course. Perhaps Sunday, August the 17th marked a special occasion that Forrest had to honor, or consented to honor (as occasion such as, let's say, a pre-established negotiation with a broadcasting network, stipulating the participation of the very popular Miss Forrrest).
The August 23, 1941 issue of Billboard magazine states that Forrest would be leaving the orchestra on Thursday, August 21, "to hop to New York to continue as a single." That date (the 21st) is also at odds with aforementioned claims that she was made to stay until the very end of the engagement. Perhaps, however, the three post-notice weeks that Forrest spent with the orchestra were remembered by her as (or just felt to her like) one entire, full-month run. In the end, though, the difference is merely one week.
At any rate, the available data suggests that vocalists Forrest and Lee shared the band stage for some ten or fifteen days of 1941, with Lee making her first appearance around August the 11th and Forrest leaving on or around August the 21st. See also notes under section I (Chicago) of this discography's Benny Goodman Concerts page.
IV. The Debut Recording Session (August 15, 1941, Chicago)
During the summer of 1941, The Benny Goodman Orchestra welcomed numerous additions to its fold: pianist Mel Powell and drummer Sid Catlett (in June), bassist John Simmons, saxophonists George Berg, Chuck Gentry, Vido Musso, and Clint Neagley (in July), and vocalist Peggy Lee (in August). Many of the instrumentalists had actually played in earlier editions of the orchestra, but were of course new to this particular edition.
When the band headed to the studio for its August 15 session, all but one of the new members had already had experience recording with The Benny Goodman Orchestra. To wit: the pianist and the drummer had participated in a studio date held on June 11. As for the saxophonists and the bassist, they had joined the orchestra for their August 1st recording session.
The band member who had never recorded with the ensemble before was none other than its female vocalist, Peggy Lee. She was actually a complete novice in the studio: this August 15 session marked her debut on record. Moreover, she had hardly sung with the ensemble before, and had yet to become acclimated to both the individual musicians and their group dynamic. (The exact day on which Lee joined the band remains unknown, but it is believed to fall within the week that preceded this studio date. She had thus played with the orchestra three or four evenings at most. Pianist Mel Powell's recollection, quoted below, suggests that Lee's time with the band before this studio outing might have been even shorter than three days.)
None of the members newly added to the band fared particularly well on the session under discussion. What's more, the ensemble's collective effort was dismissed by a few music critics, and even dissed by some Goodman fans of note. No less an authority than the bandleader's bio-discographer, Donald Russell Connor, referred to the sound of the entire reed section as very ragged. More kindly, he added that the nervous vocalist would show improvement during the next session, held five days later.
In her autobiography, Peggy Lee quotes Mel Powell's recollection of this Friday the 15th date: "Columbia Records, to whom Benny was contracted, always came to wherever the band was playing. So they arrived in Chicago to record. There Peg was, making a recording with Benny Goodman just a day or two after she joined the band. She met CBS producer John Hammond in the control room, and he handed her the sheet music for Elmer's Tune. This was a pretty tough rap for a kid. There was no taping on those days. You just made records. If you blew something, you started from the beginning. You didn't say, 'Well, let's take it from measure 39 and splice it.' She was so nervous. The sheet music John handed her made such a racket, and they didn't have high-tech ways of beating that, so unfortunately, it sounded like a forest fire that was going over the brass, over the saxophones. Peggy had probably been up all night learning this thing, and then she came in, and the arrangement was disorienting because Elmer's Tune was very clever, very fancy, full of stuff." (See notes under next session for more on this story, including intimations that Hammond might have come to both dates with an agenda -- i.e., talking Goodman into hiring a more established singer who was under Hammond's patronage.)
Fortunately, the newcomer counted with the invaluable aid of pianist Mel Powell, an 18-year-old prodigy who had joined the band two months before the arrival of the 21-year-old Lee. After the initial aborted attempts, Powell and Lee met in an adjacent room, where they sat down and ran through the more demanding parts of the arrangement. By creating a cue especially for her ("I'm just gonna pop that in there," he told her, "in the midst of what seems to be just a ramble over the band while the band's playing ... you catch it from that ... count four, and go"), the pianist immensely helped the vocalist, making possible the subsequent waxing of two complete takes.
Part of the vocalist's difficulty at these early dates stemmed from the fact that her new boss did not think that singers needed to rehearse with the band. The strict purpose of Goodman's rehearsals was the fine-tuning of the instrumentalists. Although the later sessions in New York did feature vocal rehearsals, such vocal sessions seem to have been allotted a very minimal amount of time. According to Lee herself during a 1974 interview, "[w]e rehearsed a great deal. Actually, my part of the rehearsal wasn’t that important. But I was always there. And I might have waited three hours before they got to a song with a vocal in it. But that taught me patience and humility and the value of rehearsing, of being prepared."
V. The Second Chicago Recording Session (August 20, 1941)
Notwithstanding the accounts told in various Benny Goodman biographies, it was apparently at this session (not at the previous one) that producer John Hammond tried to get rid of the band's brand new canary. In the words of bio-discographer Donald Russell Connor: "Benny was ... annoyed with John Hammond during this session. With Helen Forrest on notice, John kept bugging Benny to hire Billie Holiday, get rid of Peggy Lee, who just cahn't sing, Benny, she really cahn't. Benny put a stop to that by throwing a chair at his future brother-in-law." Given the fact that Russell Connor personally listened to the session tapes -- and consulted with Goodman, too -- his account should be deemed more reliable than those found in other texts. One such text is Ross Firestone's otherwise recommended Swing, Swing, Swing, in which Hammond's "cahn't sing" exclamations are presented as part of the happenings from the previous date (August 15, 1941). Firestone himself might not necessarily be at fault for the ascription of these events to the previous date, however. He seems to have relied not only on previous literature but also on oral testimony from those present at the sessions. Perhaps the passing of time led one or more of the participants to coalesce into one date events that had happened over the two Chicago dates.
Another active participant in the events under scrutiny -- in addition to Goodman, Hammond, and Lee -- was audio engineer Bill Savory. His presence at the date is explained by Russell Connor as follows: "Benny was unhappy with the audio engineering in Columbia's Chicago studios, hastily summoned Billy Savory to participate, give them a hand." (Incidentally, Goodman gave to Savory various takes from the session as souvenirs, including the three unissued takes of "I See A Million People" that are listed above, and which might have not been preserved otherwise.) Savory was probably Connor's source for the remarks quoted in the previous paragraph, and he was definitely one of the sources for the comments from Firestone's book, where his colorful account is quoted at length: "It was a very tense situation. Then, to make matters worse, John started hassling Benny about Peggy's deficiencies. Benny, she cahn't sing. She just cahn't sing. Finally, out of exasperation, Benny picked up a chair and hurled it across the studio at him. John was amazed and upset. What does one do?, he asked me. Does one fight? 'Just forget about it,' I told him. 'The sight of blood would probably make you faint.' "
According to Ross Firestone, Hammond "continued to hold fast to his disdain even after [Peggy Lee] had more than proved herself through such excellent recordings as Let's Do It, Where Or When and Somebody Else Is Taking My Place. He quotes Hammond as having once declared that Lee had "no vocal or interpretative talent."
A man who relentlessly championed Count Basie and (most notably) Billie Holiday but at times dismissed Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, Hammond was highly opinionated as a critic, relentless as a promoting impresario and, according to acquaintances, rigidly unwilling to entertain views other than his own. Though a highly influential figure in the world of jazz music (and beyond), his personality earned harsh criticism from many of those who knew him -- and also from others who interacted with the not-so-gentle-man on a more limited basis. (His sense of ethics has come into scrutiny as well. The battery of charges includes fickleness, rudeness, pettiness, haughtiness, thoughtless obstinacy, vindictiveness with his pen, opportunism, self-aggrandizement, and distortion -- or even outright fabrication -- of anecdotal stories.) In the 1930s and 1940s, his influence in the hiring and firing of personnel from The Benny Goodman Orchestra became a sore subject among musicians, too. As James Lincoln Collier explains in his book Benny Goodman And The Swing Era (while indirectly quoting Benny Goodman's first canary, Helen Ward), "Hammond's meddling was frequently resented by the members of the band, said Ward, in part because they felt they knew more about how the music should be played than Hammond did, and partly because they knew his tastes were fickle, and he might at any moment start urging Benny to fire any of them in favor of somebody he had recently heard."
VI. On The Road: The Transitional Weeks
After their Chicago engagement at the Sherman Hotel ended (August 28, 1941), Peggy Lee did her first trip with The Benny Goodman Orchestra, traveling all the way to Toronto, Canada. On August 30, 1941, they performed at the Canadian National Exhibition's Dance Pavilion. Afterwards, they might have done some additional engagements while on the road, although there is no record of them. (A short vacation could have also taken place. The only extant dates from this period are appearances by Goodman solo, sans the orchestra.) Their next lengthy engagement was in New Jersey's Meadowbrook Country Club, where they performed for four weeks (ca. September 11 - October 8, 1941). While performing on a daily basis at the New Jersey venue, the orchestra also took time to travel to nearby New York at least three times, to do recording sessions.
Peggy Lee's previous experiences with traveling bands had been on a relatively small scale. Such experiences had begun back when she was 14 or 15 years old, in and around North Dakota's Valley City, with the Doc Haines ensemble. Next, when she was 20, she had moved from Minneapolis to Missouri with The Will Osborne Orchestra. (There had also been trips to Chicago, though not in the company of an orchestra.) These previous experiences with smaller ensembles probably eased her way into the more taxing travails of an itinerant life with a national band -- travails which could include dizzying location changes every few weeks or, sometimes, every few days, irregular or limited sleep, and everyday difficulties brought about by non-familiarity with new accommodations.
Traveling must have also strengthened Peggy Lee's ties with fellow band members. During the previous month in Chicago, when her nerves had overtaken her, Lee had felt that the band's members were not even speaking to her. After this short period on the road, her misgivings had bee assuaged. By the time of her next session, she was well integrated into the band, and on friendly terms with her fellow musicians.
Widespread approval from public audiences would still take months, however. Many concertgoers were still pining after the stylings of the orchestra's previous canary, the very popular and highly regarded Helen Forrest. Fortunately, Peggy Lee would soon begin to earn fans from the radio-listening and record-buying public, thanks to the vocals that she waxed during the New York sessions.
VII. The New York Recording Sessions
Judging from the aural results, Peggy Lee seems to have been in a relaxed state of mind during her third date (September 25, 1941), and even more so during the dates that ensued. For her, the third session must have signified a fresh start in the recording studio. Unlike previous dates, the third session and the ones that followed were held in New York, not Chicago. New arrangements, mostly by Mel Powell, would gradually be tailored to suit her range. By October, Lee's song assignments had become a combination of fresh numbers deemed suitable to her style and numbers that Eddie Sauter, in particular, had arranged with Helen Forrest in mind. The combination is also apparent from a look at the songs that she performed during the band's residence in New Jersey's Meadowbrook: Sauter-orchestrated songs such as "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire," which Helen Forrest had being doing with the band before her, and songs such as "Let's Do It," which Lee had performed before joining the band, and which Mel Powell had newly arranged. Adding to the more congenial environment was the circumstance that, by this point (and as already mentioned), Lee had become well integrated to the band, thanks to the weeks that all members of the ensemble had spent together on the road. As for the rather nefarious presence of John Hammond in the studio, there is no indication that he actively produced or even attended the New York sessions.
In spite of Hammond's earlier protests, Goodman's hiring of Lee would soon prove a wise decision. For starters, one of her vocals from the first New York session proved popular among concert audiences ("Let's Do It") and another gained critical approval over time ("How Deep Is The Ocean"). Next, at the second New York date, Lee recorded the first official chart hit of her career ("I Got It Bad"). Subsequent dates resulted in further hits, including a couple of big sellers ("Somebody Else Is Taking My Place," "Why Don't You Do Right?").
A clear indication of Peggy Lee's ascent in Goodman's estimation happened when he asked her to participate in two of the bandleader's prestigious sextet sessions. Lee's vocals were granted a prominent role on both occasions (December 24, 1941 and March 10, 1942), with Lee certainly taking good advantage of each opportunity. Those sessions' ballads ("Where Or When," "The Way You Look Tonight") display a very personalized style of singing which most likely harks back to the years before Lee had become a member of Goodman's big band orchestra. (For Lee and most other singers of the time, their integration to big band ensembles required the subjugation of their individual styles to the dance-oriented beats which audiences craved from the bands.)
On two other New York recording dates (September 25, 1941 and July 27, 1942), the singer was also allowed to offer input in the area of song selection. (For further details, consult the Songs notes under the two aforementioned dates, in the Goodman sessions page.) Generally, a commendably self-assured, looser (more tongue-in-cheek and adventuresome) Peggy Lee had made her appearance in New York.
As for the specifics surrounding Lee's New York recording dates, the amount of data varies from scant to non-existent, unfortunately. Take the first of her dates in the Big apple, for instance (September 25, 1941). All the anecdotal details that have been passed down over the decades pertain to problems with the use of percussion during the date. Similar complaints can be made about most of the other New York sessions, with the exceptions that will be noted below.
VIII. "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place": The November 13, 1941 Session
Peggy Lee's 7th session with The Benny Goodman Orchestra was a special one for the canary: she was assigned to sing on all four numbers. Goodman's decision to feature Lee so prominently would pay off in a few months, when one of the numbers, "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place," would become a chart topper. Her other vocal assignments for the occasion were "Somebody Nobody Loves," "How Long Has This Been Going On," and "That Did It, Marie."
If the dialogue that has been preserved in the session lacquers is any indication, this date was a fun one, too. We hear Goodman accusing Lee of a mistake that, as it turns out, she had not made. The "non-mistake" occurred toward the session's end, during the recording of That Did It, Marie. Reports Russ Connor: "Benny, evidently at a different microphone and watching the band, believes that Peggy has missed her entrance cue; he terminates the recording by exclaiming, in meter, 'Where the hell's the vocalist?' But Peggy is on time, and Benny realizes he's wrong; he says he's sorry, but asks, 'Why didn't you tell me about it?' The session proceeds [...]; as if to compensate, Benny digs hard. Peggy then saucily adds a bop phrase -- a a diddle la dip, When all the cats gave out their jive -- not on the original [...], seemingly in retaliation for the boss' blunder. Fun and games in the studio ..."
IX. "Not A Care In The World": The December 10, 1941 Session
At this date, Benny Goodman's temper was running high. The bandleader reached his boiling point during the session's last song, "You Don't Know What Love Is," vocalized by Art Lund. The chief target of his anger became trombonist Lou McGarity, whose solo did not meet the King of Swing's royal expectations. Explains bio-discographer Russ Connor: "You Don't Know What Love Is was the last tune cut on a lengthy and difficult recording session; an inordinate number of aborted takes and full renditions of four other takes had preceded it. Understandably, tempers were frayed; and Benny explodes when Lou McGarity fluffs his solo with, You've got a solo -- why don't you play it!, and then demonstrates how it should be played with his clarinet ... In Lou's behalf, must say the tune and the tempo are dirge-like, and Sauter's arrangement does not facilitate a trouble-free reading." Tellingly, no trombone solo is heard in the released take of "You Don't Know What Love Is."
The five-song session was entirely dedicated to vocal recordings, beginning with Lund's renditions of "Somebody's Rocking My Dreamboat" and "Let's Give Love A Chance." In Connor's estimation, the first take of Somebody's Rocking My Dreamboat evinces an Art Lund who "seems unsure, sounds flat, certainly more off-key than in the original release." Compared to the fourth take (the master, picked by Columbia for commercial release), the initial take of Let's Give Love A Chance also leaves plenty to be desired, in the opinion of the Goodman expert. Connor attributes Lund's difficulties to the complexity of Eddie Sauter's charts and to the vocalist's own learning curve, which made him "more comfortable as succeeding takes were recorded." It should also be noted that Lund had joined the band less than a month before (around November 16, 1941).
Furthermore, Connor is only making a general point about first takes. They can naturally oscillate, he says, between "illustrating ... professional competency" and "reveal[ing] .... hesitancy in attacking a brand-new chart." (Of "Ev'rything I Love," from Goodman's November 27, 1941 session, Connor says that in the first take "Mel Powell's intro seems somewhat experimental; Peggy Lee is a bit strident, but excellent nevertheless; and Benny is quite inventive.")
This December 10 session's remaining numbers, "Not Mine" and "Not A Care In The World" were sung by Peggy Lee. Aside from his general reference to multiple aborted takes for each of the five numbers, Connor makes no allusion to any trouble during the recording of the Lee spots. In his estimation, Not Mine features a "[g]reat Benny in the first run-through [i.e., alternate 31944-"A"], excellent Peggy, and marvelously emotional trombone playing." As for Not A Care In The World, "Eddie Sauter's score is blithe and airy, the band executes well, and Peggy Lee's vocal is harmoniously degagé, perhaps more so on th[e] alternate take [i.e., 31945-1] than on [master 31945-2]."
X. "Where Or When": The December 24, 1941 And March 10, 1942 Sessions
Benny Goodman's December 24, 1941 session was the second of his dates to be entirely dedicated to vocals featuring Peggy Lee. On this occasion, there was a double feature: both Lee's voice and Goodman's sextet were showcased, without any involvement from the full orchestra. The small group and their vocalist cut an uptempo "On The Sunny Side Of The Street," a midtempo "Blues In The Night," and a balladic "Where Or When." All three numbers have come to be well regarded among fans and critics alike.
Admission to one of the King of Swing's prestigious sextet dates signified a strong vote of confidence on the boss' part. By this time, Lee had evolved from the ruffled and rattled songbird who wanted to fly away (while in Chicago) to the canary who was flourishing in the Big Apple, with one hit already under her wings ("I Got It Bad") and many more to come. This date's "Blues In The Night" would actually become her third hit (backed by "Where Or When" in the 78-rpm release), entering the charts in February 1942. (It had been preceded, in January 1942, by the holiday-themed "Winter Weather," from a November 27, 1941 session. Her fourth hit, in March 1942, would be the chart-topping "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place.")
Three months after her first session with the sextet, Peggy Lee received another request to record with the sextet. Instrumentals were actually the overall focus on this second occasion (March 10, 1942), but the vocalist was brought along anyway. Her recruitment for another small group date implied, once again, a strong vote of confidence on Goodman's part. She and the sextet cut one number, "The Way You Look Tonight."
The stylistic similarities between the sextet's performances of "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Where Or When" should not pass unnoticed. The ballad from the first of these sextet sessions must have been deemed a specially effective interpretation -- so much so that it was essentially reprised during the second session. Their renewed effort certainly paid off, as "The Way You Look Tonight" became Lee's 8th chart hit. (She would end up giving 10 chart entries to Columbia and The Benny Goodman Orchestra. On Capitol Records, Goodman and Lee would also team for an 11th addition to their joint chart log.)
In her autobiography, Peggy Lee writes: "We did some sextette numbers -- Where Or When, and The Way You Look Tonight -- at the Liederkranz Hall. Benny wanted to use one microphone for all musicians as well as the singer, which called for more gymnastics. [The microphone was hanging high, quite a few feet away from the floor.] Lou McGarity, playing trombone, would first crawl up in the air (on boxes), then we somehow managed to remain relatively silent and hold our breath in passing each other as I crawled up for my vocal and he crawled down. Those recordings may seem rather moody, and somehow they were, but it was also, after all, a little dangerous ... either of us could have crashed to the floor. But if Benny said do it, we did it."
In a radio interview conducted by Fred Hall, Peggy Lee further named both "Where Or When" and "The Way You Look Tonight" among her personal favorites from her years of recording with Benny Goodman. She had good reason for singling them out. Lee thoroughly imbued both ballads with a personalized approach (an emotional fervor, a mellow warmth) that she had probably been discouraged from conveying in ballads featuring the full orchestra. (Such orchestral ballads were geared toward dance-oriented audiences. They were often boxed in Eddie Sauter's danceable and complex arrangements.)
"Where Or When" and "The Way You Look Tonight" probably exemplify the intimate style of singing that Lee had cultivated during her days as a solo act, before joining Goodman's orchestra -- a style which she had needed to put on hold in order to adjust to the dance tempo of the big bands. Lee continued to develop this bluesy, moody and melodic style after she left The Benny Goodman Orchestra and went solo, through her interpretations of numbers such as "That Old Feeling" (recorded January 7, 1944), "Baby Is What He Calls Me" (December 27, 1944), and "Waitin' For The Train To Come In" (July 30, 1945).
XI. "Why Don't You Do Right?": The July 27, 1942 Session
Peggy Lee's best-remembered number from her tenure with Benny Goodman was recorded during her penultimate session, on July 27, 1942. "Why Don't You Do Right?" was the date's only vocal; the rest of the session was dedicated to the instrumentals "Six Flats Unfurnished" and "After You've Gone," which would also become well-known Goodman pieces. "Why Don't You Do Right?" was, however, the incontestable blockbuster of the date, and of Lee's tenure. Although it did not top the charts, it did take the nation by storm. Within weeks of its release, the single (with the instrumental "Six Flats Unfurnished" on its flip side) had sold 200,000 copies in Southern California alone -- at the time, a very healthy quantity. Goodman and Lee's performance of the number in a 1943 movie release (Stage Door Canteen) must have heavily contributed to its popularity. Nationwide, moviegoers paid attention to the "dish" in charge of the vocals. Somewhat ironically, Lee failed to capitalize on the heightened profile that she was enjoying, or on the many opportunities that suddenly came her way (including movie offers), opting instead for retirement to fulfill duties as a newlywed and housewife. (The retirement ended up being temporary, of course.)
For those interested in the song and its interpretation, this discography does include a page entirely dedicated to "Why Don't You Do Right?," from which I have gathered and copied below the few details that are marginally related to the session itself. Given the relevance of "Why Don't You Do Right?" to Lee's tenure with Benny Goodman's Orchestra, the lack of any documentation about the events that transpired during the session is particularly regrettable. (that having been said, notice an upcoming quote from Lee herself, in which she seems to suggest that the session was fairly uneventful, after all.)
As shown in the sessionography's Benny Goodman page, four takes of "Why Don't You Do Right?" are extant, all of them from this July 27, 1942 session. When heard sequentially, the takes convey a general mood of enthusiasm amidst participating musicians. Also noticeable is Peggy Lee's game disposition, offering divergent vocal approaches to selected words and phrases. To my ears, the overall effect is that of a musical gathering where the players are having a good time, maybe because they have been allowed to perform in more than one strict tempo and style. (I should stress that this is a merely an opinion of mine. We do not know what actually transpired during the session. The general portrait of Goodman that his biographers have constructed is that of a serious, stern, even controlling taskmaster, especially at his recording sessions. But it could still be that he perceived this particular number -- "Why Don't You Do Right?" -- almost as a throwaway, and that some latitude was given to Lee due to her hand in the finding of the song.)
Waxing "Why Don't You Do Right?" had been initially perceived as not much more than an indulgence. At recording time (July 27), bandleader and label were probably willing to record just about anything, due to the aforementioned Petrillo record ban, which was about to go into effect (August 1). Lee indeed told to an interviewer that the number was "thrown into the record date. There was a record ban, so they were recording everything they could find in the library. It didn't make anything of an impression on anyone really, until that point, which I think is kind of an interesting thing, considering the success it did have later, fortunately, for all of us."
To a large extent, the recording of the number seems to have been an amicable concession to Peggy Lee and her tastes in music. (Read corroboration and specifics on this matter here.) Goodman presumably wanted to keep a pleased and inspired canary under his grasp. After all, Lee had accounted for much of the band's success on radio airplay during the previous months, when she had not only placed various numbers in the charts but had also taken one song to the top spot of the best-selling lists ("Somebody Else Is Taking My Place").
Over the months which followed the session on which "Why Don't You Do Right?" was recorded, and as the recording ban remained in full force, Lee would notice that Columbia was releasing just about everything else that Goodman had recently waxed. In December 1942, when the master take was finally picked for issue on a single, Lee assumed that the reason for the prospective release was that Columbia had run out of any other suitable alternatives. An inspection of contemporaneous reviews in magazines such as Billboard and Gramophone leads me to believe that the record company considered "Why Don't You Do Right?" the lesser side on the 78-rpm release, and that the performance under actual promotion was the instrumental "Six Flats Unfurnished." Nonetheless, radio stations, listeners, moviegoers, and concert fans amply gave the edge to "Why Don't You Do Right?"
XII. Historical Markers: The Frank Sinatra Event And The Rising Popularity Of Vocalists
Peggy Lee was witness to what has come to be perceived as a legendary event in the history of popular music, symbolizing the rise of The Vocalist over The Big Band Orchestra. Lee was not only present at the event that signaled this shift but she can be said to have been an active participant -- one that temporarily straddled between the two worlds in competition. The next paragraphs offer an account of The Event.
Starting on Wednesday, December 30, 1942, The Benny Goodman Orchestra was the main musical attraction at the Paramount Theatre in New York City's Times Square. The orchestra's canary was, of course, Peggy Lee. The typically crowded bill also included comic sketches from the team of Moke and Poke, impersonations from The Radio Rogues trio, and screenings of the movie Star Spangled Rhythm. (Moke and Poke had to be cut from the night's last show because it was running late.) Yet another participant, Frank Sinatra, was billed as an "extra-added attraction" for the night of December 30. He was not originally expected to perform for more than two weeks. (The Benny Goodman Orchestra was scheduled for four weeks.) Jack Benny was the master of ceremonies.
At a time when the big bands remained the most popular acts in the nation, Sinatra was a burgeoning artist who had left The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra just three months earlier. Encouraged by his ever-increasing success as a big band crooner on both radio and record, Sinatra had moved on to performing solo at small venues in his native New Jersey and in the New England area (specifically, Connecticut & Rhode Island). Now, on December 30, he was making his first major appearance as a solo act, right in the center of the Big Apple.
There is no extant audio from this Paramount engagement, but music trade reviews give a general idea of the performances that took place. In Billboard magazine, reviewer Elliott Grennard pointed out that Goodman's then-current band had been assembled about two weeks earlier and was thus "too newly put together to show more than its potential strength." With that caveat out of the way, the reviewer proceeded to bestow praise on Goodman's clarinet and John Walton's tenor sax solos. In a telling point about generational divergences, Grennard also makes mention of the loud yells of approval from those he called "the night-show grown-ups" -- as opposed to the "morning-show kids" that Goodman had "once had dancing in the aisles."
Of Peggy Lee, he writes the following: "Goodman's canary is building a strong rep of her own with her combination of quaint, old-fashioned style of looks and her hipped-to-the-minute style of singing. Started nicely with Don't Get Around Much Anymore and really whipped it with Why Don't You Do Right. Gal sounded even better than she does on the best-selling recording, which is doing all right in any man's theater. Encored with a chorus of the slow blues Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City." Her singing of the first two numbers is confirmed on an undated review that Variety published in its January 6, 1943 issue. "Audience could have taken more of her," declares the reviewer, "but Goodman cut into applause with a band number."
Besides Don't Get Around Much Anymore, Why Don't You Do Right, and her encore's I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City, Lee did at least one additional number in other shows. (A typical day at the Paramount consisted of up to six or seven shows performed by the bands and their band singers.) A third press report mentions that she sang not only "Why Don't You Do Right?" (with the full band) but also "Where Or When" (with Goodman's sextet). A fourth reviewer writes that Lee's "extremely warm" version of Where Or When "hushed the house." (As it will be shortly mentioned in greater detail, Sinatra is also credited with singing "Where Or When" during this engagement.)
It should be noted that "Why Don't You Do Right?" was just beginning to garner attention at this point in time. The aforementioned Variety reviewer mentioned in passing that the recording was becoming a resounding click for the outfit." Since Columbia probably had just released the 78-rpm disc, some members of the New York audience might have been first exposed to Peggy Lee's interpretation right there, at the engagement. Although recorded some six months earlier, this master had been left to catch dust in the vaults. It was finally rescued from oblivion some time in December 1942, presumably after The Benny Goodman Orchestra and Peggy Lee had filmed a performance of it for the upcoming movie Stage Door Canteen. The single did not appear in Billboard's music charts until the week of January 2, 1943.
While the canary's main selections (Why Don't You Do Right? and Don't Get Around Much Anymore) injected the band's fervent playing with a gentle, earthy streak of rhythm & blues, the show's "added attraction" transported audience members into a dreamy, romantic atmosphere through a thoroughly balladic repertoire. With Jess Stacy's piano as his accompaniment, Sinatra sang "Where Or When," "There Are Such Things," and a three-tune medley that consisted of "I Had The Craziest Dream," "She's Funny That Way," and "For Me And My Gal." Some reports list "When The Lights Go On Again" as his encore; Grennard identifies it instead as "I Hear Music." Less clearly written reports might or might not be suggesting that Sinatra also did a guest vocal with Goodman's sextet. (The song was clearly "Paradise," and it was definitely performed by the sextet; the point that remains unclear is whether the singer joined the sextet for the performance.) In any case, Sinatra receives a positive review from Grennard, for whom the vocalist exhibited "the rhythm that comes from swinging out with a top ork. and the flexibility that comes from soloing." The reviewer noticed a "slight throat huskiness," but hastened to add that the husk "didn't prevent him from whamming every one over." To conclude, Grennard pointedly added that The Voice's "boyish appearance and mannerisms [proved to be] all catnip for the ladies."
This end-of-the-year engagement became Sinatra's apotheosis as a singer. With the help of his savvy press agent George Evans (who came up with the moniker "The Voice" as an attention-grabbing one, and who, at this early stage of his client's career, might have hired teenagers to publicly swoon for the crooner, thereby starting the Bobbysoxers Craze), the Paramount bill's "added" attraction, became not only its main event, but also a nationally touted phenomenon. Initially hired to sing for two weeks, the crooner's contract was extended for the full month and, when those four weeks were over, he was still retained for an additional month. (For its part, The Benny Goodman Orchestra fulfilled its four-week contract and moved on to a pre-scheduled engagement at The Chicago Theatre.)
In her autobiography, Peggy Lee refers to the Paramount events as follows: "the bobby soxers were storming the Paramount Theatre in Times Square. I was there with Benny Goodman. Frank Sinatra was the 'Extra Added Attraction,' and he certainly was! [...] We used to lean out the windows of the dressing room to see the crowds of swooners, like swarms of bees down there in the street, just waiting for the sight of Frank. [...] Everything that led up to Frank's performance seemed not quite so important. Benny played as great as ever, I sang my songs and got some attention, but it was electric when Frank came out on stage." Lee also wrote about one of the various occasions that caused her remain grateful to Sinatra for her entire life. While still at the Paramount, "[o]ne day I had the flu and became violently ill. [...] That's when Frank discovered I was really having a bad time in my dressing room, and, from that time until I was well, he was my special nurse. First he brought me blankets to stop the shivering. Then, when it was possible, a little tea; later a piece of toast. Meantime, he was out there singing from six to eight shows a day in that huge theatre with the cheering crowds [...] I'll especially never forget what he did for me in the middle of his first great triumph."
As previously stated, the Paramount engagement under discussion is generally perceived as a turning point in the history of American music: the moment in which vocalists took over the world of pop music, thereby pushing the big bands down the path to oblivion. Such a perception of the event is a simplification, of course. The process in question had been long in the making, and would still continue to evolve. (For one, other vocalists had been hugely popular before Sinatra -- most notably, Sinatra's own idol, Bing Crosby. As for the fits of fan swooning which sensationalized Sinatra's appearance at the Paramount and subsequent venues, they were nothing brand new, either. Similar mass reactions had been reported in the case of matinee idols such as Rudolph Valentino and, from the music world, Russ Columbo.) Ultimately, the Paramount engagement is just a symbolic marker -- though a fascinating and suitably dramatic one.
But, more any single musical event, the most fundamental contributor to the vocalists' increase in popularity was the war, with its significantly emotional effect on music listeners. Separation from loved ones, brought about by the drafting for military service, created a nationwide yearning for heartfelt and personalized messages in song: a demand for the type of intimate singing that vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee certainly favored. In Lee's case, her repertoire from this period is telling. At many Goodman engagements held between November 1942 and February 1943 (her last month with the band), Lee sang topical numbers such as "That Soldier Of Mine," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and "As Time Goes By." It is not clear how much input she had in the selection of such songs, and it is likely that most of them were interpreted at a mid-tempo or danceable beat, rather than as slow romantic numbers. But Lee's very own way with ballads did come to the forefront toward the end of the war, when she too became a solo act. No longer hindered by the dance-oriented charts of Goodman's orchestra, Peggy Lee freely sang in the same bluesy, slow and lyrical manner which she had cultivated before she had joined the band, and which Goodman had allowed Lee to showcase only for her two ballads with the sextet ("Where Or When" and "The Way You Look Tonight").
XIII. Historical Markers: The AFM Recording Ban
The Benny Goodman Orchestra made no studio recordings during Peggy Lee's last twelve months as their vocalist (August 1942 - summer of 1943). The reason: effective August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) had declared a ban over recording activity. In observation of such a ban, unionized musician refuse to participate in record sessions held by commercial record companies (including transcription companies). Exempt from this ban were recordings made for the Armed Radio Forces Service and for film soundtracks.
Also exempt from the musicians' ban: solo singers. Not being union members, vocalists who did not play instruments were free to sing on commercial records for both record labels and transcription companies. However, in the absence of musicians to back them, record companies were reduced mostly to set up a cappella sessions for the vocalists under contract. Two other alternatives were to hire non-unionized musicians and to travel abroad, in order to record non-American musicians.
Though no studio recordings could be otherwise made, Goodman's and the other orchestras were allowed to perform, and they certainly did so -- playing at concerts, on the radio and for films. Hence Lee's vocals from this ban period have been preserved in sources other than studio recordings: to wit, a couple of film soundtracks, as well as many a live date, remotely broadcast over the radio airwaves and preserved through fan or station recordings. (A full page of this discography is dedicated to such remotes.)
The ban was not fully and officially lifted until November 11, 1944. On that date, the recording industry as a whole settled with AFM, and labels such as Columbia (still Benny Goodman's label at the time) were once again able to steadily use instrumentalists in their recording sessions. A few labels had actually settled with AFM much earlier: specifically, Decca (August 1943) and Capitol (September 1943). In fact, Capitol's early settlement made it possible for Peggy Lee to record, in January of 1944, her earliest known post-Goodman recordings. Lee thus began her transition from band canary to solo vocalist as the ban period moved into its final phase.
XIV. Reasons For Peggy Lee's Departure From The Benny Goodman Orchestra
Some time in early 1943*, Benny Goodman fired Dave Barbour from his band. The reason for the guitarist's dismissal was his blossoming relationship with Peggy Lee -- or rather, Goodman's discovery of such a relationship. Per the bandleader's policies, romantic liaisons between his current musicians and girl singers were forbidden. Not long after Dave Barbour was notified of his termination, Peggy Lee herself gave notice of departure (March 1). About one week later (on March 8), Barbour and Lee got married. "I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play," Lee remarked during an interview decades later, "and so I married him ... Benny stuck to his rule. I think that's not too bad a rule, but you can't help falling in love with somebody ... Benny then fired David, so I quit, too."
Over the years, reasons other than Barbour's firing were given for the singer's decision to leave the band. Lee herself seemingly waited until after Goodman's passing to divulge the effect that the guitarist's firing had had on her. The additional reasons that she and others gave at one time or another (retirement due to marriage, desire to settle at a home and raise a family, etc.) were probably true and accurate as well, but the firing seems to have been the event that triggered the process of leaving the band.
One additional and unsubstantiated reason was privately claimed by another vocalist -- someone whose professional work also dated back to the big band era. That female vocalist, who shall remain anonymous in this writing, claimed that Goodman and Lee had been romantically involved. Her claim could evoke a dramatic, romantic-triangle scenario, in which a spiteful Goodman would have dismissed Barbour, and Lee would have reacted by quitting. Nevertheless, such a scenario currently lacks factual or even anecdotal support. The claim itself, while not disproven, is ultimately suspect: the singer in question, once friends with Lee, spoke up only after the two women had had a falling out (years after the falling out, actually). As for Peggy Lee's own public comments, she always denied that her relationship with Goodman went beyond professional boundaries. (Further details to add to the picture: When Lee joined the band, Goodman was already engaged to the former Lady Alice Duckworth, who was producer John Hammond's sister, and who was awaiting for the finalization of her divorce. On March 21, 1942, Goodman married his fiancée, and they had their first child on May of the following year.)
As far as is publicly known, Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman were at odds just briefly. Judging from a remark that she made during an interview ("Benny and I made up, although David didn't play with him anymore"), the conflict between them was non-lasting, and could have been restricted to the month that she seems to have spent away from the ensemble (from around March 21 to around April 23). No expressions of animosity are betrayed in an extant March 1943 broadcast, during which Goodman alerts listeners to her new marital status and Lee breezily sings a vocal duet with the clarinetist. Done for the Armed Forces Radio (and hence primarily heard abroad), the broadcast features an exchange that I will be quoting next.
Announcer: You know, Peggy is from Fargo, North Dakota, and really cute.
Benny Goodman: Oh, but don't get any ideas, because she just got married.
Announcer: Ah, nice, Peggy, mighty nice. Say, Benny, who does the male vocals in the band these days?
Benny Goodman: Well, we are giving an audition to an up-and-coming young guy in the reed section. He's up for the next one; so, see what you think of him.
[The reed guy is Goodman himself, and his vocal duet with Lee is heard next. Once the number is over, we hear one additional comment about the duet.]
Peggy Lee: And if you haven't guessed who the vocalist was, it was nobody but BG himself.
It must be granted, however, that Goodman's and Lee's good-natured remarks for this show were probably scripted, and thus not particularly indicative of personal sentiments. But, be that as it may, the point is that Goodman was willing to publicly acknowledge his canary's marriage, while Lee was similarly willing to play (sing) along with Goodman. No overt expressions of animosity between Goodman and Lee seem to have been reported, either, for the three months that followed the events from March of 1943. What's more, some of the information to be given in this page's next section suggests that Goodman asked both Barbours to join him for a week's worth of dates in San Francisco, in June of 1943.
*Side note: The exact date on which Dave Barbour was given notice of termination is unknown to me, and ditto for the date on which he left the band. In print, we do have one statement on the matter, from an article in the March 27, 1943 issue of Billboard. "Barbour quit B. G. last week," we are told in this article, which carries a March 20 byline. (Notice that most of my other sources claim that Barbour was fired instead, and I have given more credence to those sources.) A comment made by trumpet player Jimmy Maxwell in Ross Firestone's book Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life And Times Of Benny Goodman suggests that, at the time of Barbour's firing, musicians expected to be given eight-week notices.
Barbour is listed among the musicians who played on a Goodman broadcast that aired in or around January 10. For the rest of January and the month of February, I do not have any data which could allow me to confirm or deny the guitarist participation in the band's outings. Discographer Russ Connor lists a new guitarist, Bart Roth, on February 28, when the orchestra began its next extended engagement (at the Hollywood Palladium, starting on February 23). Connor's February 28 entry allows for the assumption that Dave Barbour had been playing until then.
The available details are just too slim to permit little more than light speculation. Relying on Connor's discographical listing and on Jimmy Maxwell's comment, it could be speculated, for instance, that Barbour received his notice in January and, requesting enforcement of the eight-week option, stayed until the end of February 1943. Alternatively, if more credence is to be given to the Billboard article, it could be assumed that Barbour was still with the band during the Palladium dates. (Notice, however, that Barbour is not in the above-shown photo from the Palladium engagement.)
Somewhat oddly (and possibly erroneously), a commentary from Peggy Lee's autobiography could be cited as an indication that the dismissal happened even earlier than January. She writes that Goodman "wasn't too happy about seeing David and me so close together. He gave David his notice .... It was 1943 now, and we all packed up and left New York for Los Angeles, where I was to do a film called The Powers Girl. David, although sacked, was still with the band for a few weeks." In that film, Barbour is indeed seen among the band's players. But Lee's chronology clashes with the data found in Russ Connor's discography, where the movie is dated as filmed in September of 1942 and released in January of 1943. (The same release date can be found in other sources.) Hence it seems that Lee, writing decades after the fact, slightly misremembered the order or the year in which the events took place.
XV. Peggy Lee's Departure From The Benny Goodman Orchestra
Goodman's discographer Donald Russell Connor tells us that "Slender, Tender And Tall [a vocal from an extant March 20, 1943 broadcast] is Peggy's final rendition as a regular member of Benny's entourage. With her (first) husband, Dave Barbour, out of the band, she'd given Benny three weeks' notice on March 1."
It is indeed true that Lee disappeared from the Goodman fold for a while. Part of a six-week engagement at the Hollywood Palladium, the aforementioned March 20 date in the last one from which there is corroboration of Lee's presence at the Palladium. At that point, the engagement still had two more weeks to run.
A Billboard article with a March 20 byline (published in the March 27, 1943 issue of the magazine) states that after getting "secretly married last week at City Hall here to Dave Barbour ... Peggy Lee is on notice and Benny Goodman is searching for a new canary." The article adds that " Helen Forrest, one of Goodman's former trushes, sat in for a couple of sets with the band at the Palladium one night this week, but it was only for old time's sake. She sticks with Harry James."
Following March 20, extant broadcasts from the remaining days of the Palladium engagement feature Frances Hunt as Peggy Lee's replacement. Three of the existent broadcasts date from late March (the 24th, the 28th, the 31st) and do include Hunt vocals. Hunt's presence is further confirmed by a Billboard review of the band's playing at the Palladium on April 1, 1943 date. There is also a fourth broadcast which features Hunt as well, and which appears to be from the very last day of the engagement (April 4, though it seems to have been slightly misdated April 5).
Frances Hunt had been Goodman's canary back in the year 1937. Such a pre-existent relationship lends credence to the logical assumption that Hunt was hurriedly recruited to substitute for an absent Lee. Besides being a returning Goodman alumna, Hunt was, however, a mother-to-be (and married to conductor-composer Lou Bring). Given the matter of her pregnancy, we may surmise that Mrs. Bring could offer her services only on a temporary basis. I have found no factual corroboration of her presence amidst the band in the weeks that followed the Palladium engagement.
In addition to the concluding phase of the Hollywood Palladium engagement, Benny Goodman's itinerary for late March and early April of 1943 was taken up by the filming of scenes for the Twentieth Century Fox movie The Gang's All Here, which also took place in Hollywood. Some of the Goodman performances that made it into the flick were instrumentals, and others were vocals. The latter were handled by the movie's female stars (Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda) and by the bandleader himself. There are no signs of Peggy Lee's presence in the released film's footage. (No signs of Frances Hunt, neither.)
With Lee thus seemingly gone from the Goodman fold after March 20, discographer Donald Russell Connor states the following: "For some 20 months Peggy had been a stalwart performer and the band's most popular attraction; now it was time for her to capitalize on the public's acceptance." Russell Connor's fair and logical statement is not, however, entirely accurate: Peggy Lee's capitalization as a solo artist actually had to wait a bit longer: as we will detail shortly, she continued to work with Goodman for a slightly longer period than the discographer suggests -- about 23 months.
Connor had an encyclopedic and oftentimes first-hand knowledge of Goodman's performing itinerary through the decades, but the war years posed exceptional limitations to the amount of minutia that he was able to cull. Having been drafted during that period, he became temporarily unable to keep up with Goodman's whereabouts on a regular basis, as he had been doing earlier. Then, after the war years, Connor must have faced the challenges that time's passing posed to the collection of minute data from the war period.
To his great credit, Connor himself acknowledges some of the gaps in his research. Before doing so, he informs us about Goodman's work on the movie The Gang's All Here (March to early April) and makes us aware of the bandleader's continued stay in the Los Angeles area, once the movie had wrapped up. The bandleader was taking a rest due to the birth of his daughter there, on May 2, 1943. Then, Connor explains, "[l]ittle is known of Benny's activities for the next month and a half. He recalls that the band played for service personnel at various military installations, but the specifics have faded with the passing years. Nor have any airchecks surfaced that would throw some light on this period. But in the main Benny stayed with [wife] Alice and [daughter] Rachel." Since Connor concentrated on extant audio material, he would have not been expected to offer details about any non-extant dates from this period (even if he had been aware of them), but we count with other sources that actually do so.
Reports from the contemporary music press indicate that Goodman was scheduled to play a date on Saturday, April 17, at the Long Beach Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles County, and that Peggy Lee would be fulfilling canary duties. Nevertheless, such reports predate the happening of the actual date, and are thus inconclusive. At the present time, I cannot even ascertain whether the scheduled date was held, or whether it was cancelled, let alone Lee's involvement.
More conclusive is a Billboard article that places Lee at at the Casino Gardens (Santa Monica, Los Angeles County) in an one-night stand with the band on Saturday, April 24. The same article touts the appearance as a return, and states that Lee "intends to remain with BG permanently inasmuch as she's under contract to him anyway." (The terms of Peggy Lee's canary contract are unknown to me. Hence I cannot determine if the quoted statement should be disqualified as mindless publicity pap or if it accurately reflected how legal matters were standing between the interested parties. For what is worth, the same press piece inaccurately tells us that Peggy Lee had recently become Dave Barbour's "bride," rather than his wife.)
Additional articles from Billboard magazine identify Lee as the canary at two later Goodman engagements, each seemingly lasting about a week. The first was at an Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, and it ran from June 2 to June 9 of 1943. For the second engagement, Lee and Goodman traveled to San Francisco, where his band performed at the Golden Gate Theatre from June 9 (or 10) to June 15 (or 16).
All the above-mentioned appearances took place in California, where the Barbours had settled. Goodman's next long-term engagement would start on June 28, 1943 in New York, at the Hotel Astor. (There were probably stops scheduled along the way, although currently only one stop is known -- i.e., Princeton University, New Jersey, on June 26.).
In early June, the music press was told that Goodman had begun the search for a new canary, because Peggy Lee had decided to remain in Los Angeles on account of her pregnancy. The press also reported that Goodman had introduced her next vocalist (said to be an inexperienced socialite using the pseudonym E'lane) on June 15 in San Francisco (presumably at the Golden Gate Theatre). The advent of this tour to New York would signal the definitive end of Lee's days as Goodman's canary.
A condensed run-down of the data covered in this and the preceding section may be in order. Eventually leading to marriage and pregnancy, Peggy Lee's romantic relationship with Benny Goodman's guitarist Dave Barbour seems to have been the key factor behind her ultimate departure from the bandleader's orchestra. Goodman's firing of Barbour, upon discovering the relationship, set a chain of events that peaked with Lee's handling of her notice. However, due to the popularity of the singer and the currency of the vocal hit Why Don't You Do Right?, chances are that Goodman and his team wanted Lee to stay for as long as possible. Meanwhile, Barbour and Lee would have been in need of a steady salary, which he would have not been in a position of providing right away. Hence it would have been in both Goodman's and Lee's best interest to "make up" (per her previously quoted words). The incomplete picture of events that is available to us shows that Lee indeed continued to perform with the band long after her three weeks' notice, allegedly handed on March the first: she kept on appearing with The Benny Goodman Orchestra until mid-June of 1943, though she might have done so only on a periodic, irregular basis, and perhaps due, at least in part, to contractual demands.
XVI. Aftermath: Peggy Lee's Reunions With Benny Goodman During The Post-Canary Years
Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman did not end their association in 1943. Far from it. Over ensuing years (or rather, decades), they performed jointly on more than a dozen occasions. The earliest performances date back to the second half of the 1940s. In 1946, she would guest on a radio show that he hosted. In 1947, both acts were on the bill of Gene Norman's Just Jazz concert series, though they might have performed separately. More substantially, Lee worked with Goodman on two Capitol recording sessions, and the twosome were among the artists handpicked to record a special Capitol song project. (All three Capitol sessions are discussed in this discography's 1946-1947 page.) Next, the 1950s brought about a Goodman guest appearance in Lee's own radio show (1951) and, conversely, two guest appearances by Lee in Goodman-hosted TV shows (1951, 1959).
In the late 1950s, Benny Goodman contacted Peggy Lee to tell her about the Basin Street East Club, a New York venue at which he had played on various occasions, and which he thought would suit her, too. His recommendation paid off handsomely: her engagements at Basin Street East during the first half of the 1960s proved highly successful and are among the most memorable ones of her storied concert career. In 1965, Goodman actually did some impromptu playing at one of Lee's Basin Street East concerts, which he was attending as a patron. The audience's enthusiastic response led Lee to invite Goodman to do a joint appearance at one of her next gigs (in Anaheim's Melodyland), joint concert appearances in San Carlos followed. They were also co-participants in a 1969 benefit concert event called The Heyday Of Rodgers & Hart, held at the New York Philharmonic.
In the autumnal years of their respective careers, Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee would further be seen in events that paid tribute to either one or the other. Most notably, Lee was among those who honored and performed for Goodman in 1982, when he became one of the recipients of the Kennedy Center Awards (and four years before the legendary clarinetist would pass away).