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Ann Hampton Callaway to Explore Peggy Lee’s Sun Valley Connection
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Tuesday, August 30, 2022
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Ann Hampton Callaway paid tribute to Linda Ronstadt in Sun Valley just before the pandemic closed theaters. Now the Tony nominee is back with a tribute show featuring the sultry queen of “Fever” Peggy Lee.

And she’ll be joined for a post-show Q&A about Lee’s life and career by Peggy Lee’s granddaughter—Holly Foster Wells--who grew up in the Wood River Valley.

The concert will start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, at The Argyros. Tickets start at $25 and are available at https://theargyros.org/

“People don’t understand how significant Peggy Lee is in history,” said Callaway, who had planned to do the show two years ago on the centennial of Peggy Lee’s birthday but had to postpone it because of the pandemic. “She was the first female pop singer/songwriter. She wrote 270 songs and was a force to be reckoned with in a world where it was the men who were writing the songs.”

Peggy Lee, known as the female Frank Sinatra,” was born in 1920 in North Dakota. She had a tragic childhood as her mother died when she was 4. Her father, an impoverished railroad worker, married another woman who beat her with a frying pan.

“The only thing that made sense in her life was music,” said Callaway.

Lee started singing in little clubs and then was discovered by Benny Goodman, whom she sang with for two years.

She would have loved to have continued with that, Callaway said, but she fell in love with the band’s guitarist Dave Barbour and so they left the band in order to marry since there was a band rule against fraternizing with the girl singer.

Unfortunately, Callaway said, Barbour was an alcoholic so they eventually divorced even though she remained madly in love with him.

Though Lee intended to quit performing and becoming a fulltime housewife, Barbour refused to let her talent lie dormant after her first song “Why Don’t you do Right” became such a big hit. She went on to write songs for movies like Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.”

“She wrote over 270 songs and recorded, 1,100 songs,” said Wells, whose mother Nicki was born to Lee and Barbour. “Her career lasted seven decades. Ultimately, she was a story teller who really put her emotions into her music. Something magical happened when she sang.”

Lee was nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning one in 1969 for her hit “Is That All There Is?”

In addition to singing and songwriting, Lee starred with Danny Thomas in “The Jazz Singer” and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Pete Kelly’s Blues.”

 “I take my audience on a ride through Peggy’s life from the beginning of her life through the end. I have an album of Peggy Lee songs that will come out in January so the audience here will be some of the first to hear them,” said Callaway.

Callaway admits she loves every song that Lee sang.

“I’m a big fan of ballads, romantic heartbreaking songs. She had an indescribable sadness in her voice—you can hear her longing, how much she missed Barbour when they broke up.”

Callaway said she, like so many others, loves “Fever:” “It’s very sexy, iconic. To this day it’s an exciting song for people of all ages.”

I also sing a song she wrote for a Broadway show called ‘Angels on My Pillow,’ and I reenact “Sing a Rainbow,’ the song she did for her role that got an Academy Award nomination. It has such a haunting quality to it.”

Wells’ family was introduced to Sun Valley when her father filmed a TV special in Sun Valley featuring Peggy Fleming.

“My mother fell in love with the area and said, ‘I’m moving right up to Sun Valley,’ ” she said.

Wells went to Hemingway School, going on to graduate from Wood River High School. Her mother--Nicki Lee Barbour Foster--was very involved with a variety of organizations, including Laughing Stock Theater. She was a founding member of The Sun Club, a recovery fellowship, and she took part in a local comedy review called The Whoop Show.

“I met Ann Hampton Callaway at Carnegie Hall when she was doing a tribute to my grandmother and we became good friends. She asked me for a few of my favorite songs. One is ‘It’s a Good Day,’ which is featured on TV shows and commercials. But the one I love the most is ‘Johnny Guitar’—it’s all about my grandfather who was a guitar player.”

Unfortunately, Lee had a lot of health problems, including diabetes. She was unable to visit with family in Sun Valley because the high altitude and even had to carry a breathing apparatus with her from concert to concert.

“But she loved singing and wasn’t going to let anything stop her,” said Callaway. “When you sing songs like ‘Black Coffee,’ you need good lung power. I had to utilize oxygen, too, when I sang in Colorado at a jazz festival where the altitude is so high.”

Wells said she is excited that Callaway is doing the concert so that her relatives and friends in Sun Valley will get to learn about her grandmother.

“My grandmother was one of the first contemporary singer/songwriters during a time when most singers didn't write their own songs," she said. “She had the foresight to train me to run her publishing company, and that’s what I do today.”

Concertgoers should bring a few handkerchiefs, Callaway said. “But, also, be ready to clap and snap your fingers and even dance a bit. I love to involve audience—and any man who sits on the front row had better be ready to get up and dance.”

DID YOU KNOW?

Some believe the Margarita cocktail was named after the Spanish version of Peggy’s name after she ordered a cocktail similar to one she had drank in Mexico while visiting Galveston, Texas.

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