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Peggy Lee's Granddaughter Holly Foster-Wells Opens up about Her Famous Grandma in a Candid Interview

Joe Akins
May 26, 2020
10:30 P.M.
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Peggy Lee's granddaughter talks about her famous grandmother in a recent interview—she tagged her as a perfectionist and a professional.

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Peggy Lee is a popular name in the music industry—the famous Jazz singer's career spanned over six decades, and years after her death, her legacy still lives on. Her granddaughter, Holly Foster-Wells, recently opened up to Closer Weekly about her popular grandmother.

Studio portrait of singer Peggy Lee (1920 - 2002) wearing a fur- trimmed white gown and diamond earrings | Photo: Getty Images

Studio portrait of singer Peggy Lee (1920 - 2002) wearing a fur- trimmed white gown and diamond earrings | Photo: Getty Images

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According to Holly, Peggy never accepted a written script but instead created her own story when it was unheard of for a woman to do so.

Peggy's journey began in North Dakota when she was born on May 26, 1920. Following her mother's death, Peggy's father remarried a woman who physically abused her.

It hardly came as a surprise when Holly said, "music became her escape from grim reality." Peggy reportedly performed in glee clubs and at church before eventually touring with an orchestra.

Peggy Lee (1920-2002), in a green strapless dress and a green scarf, circa 1965 | Photo: Getty Images

Peggy Lee (1920-2002), in a green strapless dress and a green scarf, circa 1965 | Photo: Getty Images

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It was during the tour that she was discovered by Benny Goodman, who recruited her to play in his band. According to Holly, Benny Goodman "put her on the map."

She fell in love with Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Benny's band. They tied the knot in 1943 and had a daughter they named Nicki—after her daughter's arrival, Peggy took a break from singing.

Tony Bennett allegedly went as far as calling her the female version of Frank Sinatra.

American jazz and pop singer Peggy Lee (1920 - 2002), circa 1950 | Photo: Getty Images

American jazz and pop singer Peggy Lee (1920 - 2002), circa 1950 | Photo: Getty Images

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According to Holly, Peggy had dreamed of finally having a stable home; however, it was not to be—Barbour was an alcoholic, and they split in 1951.

Throughout her life, Peggy married three more times to three different men—Holly says the jazz singer had called the marriages "costume parties" because they had hardly mattered.

She turned to music because, to her, it was all that mattered and had hits like "Fever" under her belt. Peggy also became a successful songwriter who made sure to hold on to her songs' publishing rights, which Holly now manages.

Peggy Lee poses for a studio portrait in 1944 | Photo: Getty Images

Peggy Lee poses for a studio portrait in 1944 | Photo: Getty Images

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Holly recalled one of her favorite sayings, "You can sell diamonds, but you don't ever sell songs." The famous singer's dramatic singing style naturally made her fit for acting, and she received an Oscar nomination as an alcoholic jazz singer in 1955's Pete Kelly's "Blues."

It was her first and last movie as she never made another afterward. Holly says her grandmother blamed it on her agents whom she believed knew she was "worth more to them on the road" rather than on stage.

Though she didn't particularly pay much attention to what happened with her acting career, Peggy was in complete control when it came to her musical career.

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American singer Peggy Lee relcining on a chaise longue before a Royal Albert Hall concert, 1970 | Photo: Getty Images

American singer Peggy Lee relcining on a chaise longue before a Royal Albert Hall concert, 1970 | Photo: Getty Images

Holly says she was a "real professional" and "perfectionist"—attributes that reportedly set her apart from other women at a time when it was believed women had no other goal than becoming the ultimate housewife.

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Peggy worked hard to make sure she was not an accessory to the likes of Frank Sinatra, and she succeeded as she won the respect of Sinatra and his peers.

American singer and actor Frank Sinatra at a recording session for 'Come Blow Your Horn', Hollywood, California, January 01, 1963. | Photo: Getty Images

American singer and actor Frank Sinatra at a recording session for 'Come Blow Your Horn', Hollywood, California, January 01, 1963. | Photo: Getty Images

Tony Bennett allegedly went as far as calling her the female version of Frank Sinatra—a statement she took as a compliment.

Peggy passed away in 2002—she was aged 81. Even after her death, her legacy lives on, and she is often cited as an inspiration by famous contemporary female singers, including Adele, Madonna, Billie Eilish, and Diana Krall.

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