5 Songs You Didn’t Know Peggy Lee Wrote

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“What are you going to do when you love music,” Peggy Lee once asked. “You can’t stop.” Throughout her 70-year career, Peggy Lee became one of the most influential songwriters of our time, writing more than 270 songs (complete Peggy Lee discography), recording more than 1,100 masters, and earning more than 100 chart hits. 

Though Lee released some hits written by famed songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, like “I’m A Woman” in 1962 and the 1969 Randy Newman-produced “Is That All There Is?” which earned Lee a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Performance, she was one of the first prominent female songwriters of her time, during a very male-dominated era in music.

Born Norma Deloris Egstrom on May 26, 1920, in Jamestown, North Dakota, Lee left home at 17 and moved to Hollywood to start performing wherever she could and even hosted a 15-minute radio show on Saturdays, sponsored by a local restaurant that would pay her in food. It was around this time that Egstrom changed her name to Peggy Lee. 

When Lee married jazz guitarist David Barbour in 1943, she began writing songs with her first husband, including one of her first songs “What More Can a Woman Do?” in 1945, which was recorded by singer Sarah Vaughan. Lee went on to write songs “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” with Dave Grusin, “All for You” with Steve Allen, “Then Was Then (And Now Is Now)” with Cy Coleman, and “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’” with Duke Ellington.

Called the “female Frank Sinatra” by Tony Bennett, Lee became a songwriting powerhouse, making friends and collaborators like Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, and more along the way. “Peg is just about the best friend a song ever had,” Sinatra said of Lee.

Lee even co-wrote and sang the Disney Lady and the Tramp classic “He’s A Tramp,” along with other hits like “Mañana,” and It’s A Good Day”—the latter song, along with “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” and “I Love Being Here With You” are still used in film, tv, and commercials today. 

Though Lee’s most notable song, the Eddie Cooley- and John Davenport-penned “Fever” was not her own, and was covered many times over, in turn, artists have also covered songs from Lee’s catalog, including Tony Bennett, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Madonna, Queen Latifah, and Regina Spektor. Artists like Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones, Billie Eilish, k.d. Land, Diana Krall, and more have held Lee’s work in the highest esteem.

“She has the power to move the heart and soul quite unlike any other artist,” said McCartney. “Her music has always given me a thrill.

Of Lee, Eilish said, “She definitely had influence on my music. I wish I was as elegant as her when she performed. Her delivery and the way she sang and moved has been really inspiring to me.” 

Lee was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999, and in May 2022, Miss Peggy Lee: An Autobiography, first published in 1989, was re-released, featuring a foreword by Lee’s granddaughter Holly Foster Wells.

Marking the centennial anniversary of Lee in 2022, the Grammy Museum exhibit “100 Years of Peggy Lee,” will run through September 2022, while the Hollywood Bowl “Tribute to Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra,” will feature Billie Eilish, Debbie Harry, and more on July 27.

Though her catalog is plentiful, here’s the story behind a few choice cuts you may not have known Peggy Lee wrote.

“It’s a Good Day” (1946)
Written by Peggy Lee and David Barbour

Reaching the Billboard charts at No. 16 in 1947, Lee originally wrote “It’s a Good Day” with husband David Barbour and released it in 1946. Lee also sang the song with Bing Crosby several times on his Philco Radio Time Show; their duet is featured on the 2004 Crosby compilation Swingin’ with Bing! Bing Crosby’s Lost Radio Performances. Though the song was covered by the likes of Perry Cuomo and Patti Page, where it is most recognizable is its placement in film and television, including commercials for Volkswagen, Tropicana, and more.

“I Don’t Know Enough About You” (1946)
Written by Peggy Lee and David Barbour

Also written by Lee and Barbour, “I Don’t Know Enough About You” peaked at No. 7 on the popular music charts and is featured on the 2020 compilation celebrating Lee’s centennial, Ultimate Peggy Lee. Writing the song, about one person getting to know another—Jack of all trades, master of none / And isn’t it a shame / I’m so sure that you’d be good for me / If you’d only play my game—Lee played around with rhyme scheme and phrase structure, rhyming in different places throughout the song. 

Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)” (1947)
Written by Peggy Lee and David Barbour

Another Lee and Barbour hit, the song was written while the couple was vacationing in Mexico, and recorded for Capitol Records in 1947, along with Barbour’s backing orchestra. The song became her biggest charting hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart, where it remained for 21 weeks—nine at the top. Though some listeners initially perceived Lee’s Mexican accent on the track as mocking the culture, it was never Lee’s intention, and the charm of the song outweighed any short-lived criticism. “Mañana prolongs people’s lives,” said Lee, “and can be an inspiration for us.”

“He’s a Tramp” (1955)
Written by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke

Featured in the 1955 animated feature Lady and the Tramp, “He’s a Tramp” was sung by Lee in the original film—along with Oliver Wallace voicing the “tramp”— Janelle Monáe did the honors singing Lee’s Disney classic in the 2019 remake.

“I Love Being Here with You” (1961)
Written by Peggy Lee and Bill Schluger

I love the East, I love the West / And North and South, their both the best / But I only want to go there as a guest / Cause I love being here with you sings Lee in her 1961 hit. Remixed by Jacob Collier for the electric Fiat 500 campaign in 2021, the song has also been covered by Diana Krall, Bette Midler with Barry Manilow, Ella Fitzgerald, and more, over the decades.

Photos: Courtesy of Peggy Lee Associates

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