Octogenarian Peggy King is still singing in selected venues these days, entertaining her fans with some of her best songs while reminiscing about her long career. But even though she’s mostly remembered now for her many TV appearances, especially those on the show hosted by George Gobel (who often introduced her as ‘pretty perky Peggy King’), she actually began as a songbird — a singer in the big band era.
A native of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Peggy King first began attracting notice in the post-war years, gaining experience by singing for popular bands like those of Charlie Spivak, Ralph Flanagan and Ray Anthony. By the early 1950s she’d also blossomed on radio and early TV, doing everything from guest shots to singing commercials. In fact, it was the latter activity that brought her to the attention of Mitch Miller, at that time the A&R guru for Columbia Records, and she soon began hitting the recording studio with regularity.
Although she didn’t have any mega-sellers, Peggy managed to craft a number of successful records in the mid-1950s, enjoying her biggest hit with her interpretation of Sarah Vaughan’s “Make Yourself Comfortable.” Her work earned her recognition as Best New Singer Of The Year from Downbeat magazine, but her career really took off from her many TV appearances. For a while it seemed as if she was everywhere, making guest shots on shows hosted by Jack Benny, Steve Allen, and Milton Berle. She also did a little acting from time to time, but her most memorable appearances were made as a regular on George Gobel’s show. She made a good foil for his humor and — of course — was always an entertaining singer in her musical numbers.
Things eventually slowed down and Peggy settled in Philadelphia, pretty much retired from active performing, but she occasionally resurfaced for special projects, such as working with the Philadelphia Orchestra and hosting an interview show. In recent years she has again started singing for her fans, and Pretty Perky Peggy King appears to be having a ball.
Peggy King – “Make Yourself Comfortable” (You can also access music in left column.)
Most of us remember Dick Powell as a longtime actor, director, and producer, and as the host of his own TV show, but he actually began his career by showcasing his talents as a musician and singer. In fact, for a number of years he was one of the most popular crooners around.
When you think of the urbane and sophisticated image Powell projected in many of his movie roles, you’d never guess that he began life in rural Arkansas, but even as a child his interest was in performing. He not only sang in church and school choirs but also learned to play several instruments, and by the time he started college in the early 1920s he was already thinking of a show business career.
Powell was still in his teens when he left college to follow his muse, and after gaining some experience with a couple of other groups he landed a spot with a solid regional band led by Charlie Davis. He spent several years with Davis, as both an instrumentalist and singer, and not only toured with the outfit but also furnished the vocals for many of its records. After leaving the band in the early 1930s to spend some time on stage, he was ‘discovered’ by a talent scout and was soon on his way to Hollywood.
It didn’t take long for Powell to make his mark in movie musicals, breaking out as a star in 1933’s classic 42nd Street alongside Ruby Keeler. For the next decade he made countless movie musicals while also appearing regularly on radio, and was one of the most popular stars around. But eventually he began to leave music behind and become a more conventional actor, reinventing himself and finding new stardom as a tough-guy character. He also began enjoying his work behind the scenes as a director and producer, which he continued to do for many years even as he mostly left acting behind. He was just 58 when he died from cancer in 1963.
Dick Powell – “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” (You can also access music in left column.)
Our newest Special Feature — Five-Star Favs — is only up to the third edition but it’s already showing some diversity. After spotlighting classic rock in the first one and jazz in the second, today we’re taking a look at a song from 1967 that isn’t easy to classify.
At first glance, “Ode To Billie Joe” seems to be a sad story-song typical of country music, but it’s also been called delta blues, folk music, southern Gothic, and probably a few other things as well. Singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry’s iconic song is a tale that has many levels but is told in a straightforward manner, and it asks a tantalizing question. What did Billie Joe and his girl throw off the bridge shortly before he ended his own life?
The mystery intrigued listeners and might have helped the song become a huge hit, nominated for eight Grammys and winning four, three of them for Gentry. It also became an international sensation, one that led to several European versions of the song, not only in other languages but in some cases rewritten to make it more familiar for listeners. For example, the French version changed the chopping of cotton to the tending of vineyards, and in Sweden the tragic Billie Joe became Jon Andreas.
So what did they throw off the bridge? Fans have speculated for years, and guesses have ranged from simple and symbolic to tragic and a little gruesome. The only one who would know for sure is the songwriter, but Bobbie Gentry has always (wisely) been a little cagey about it, although she has hinted from time to time.
Bobbie Gentry – “Ode To Billie Joe” (You can also access music in left column.)