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Is That All There Is?

The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

About The Book

Praised by the New York Times Book Review as “fascinating, suspenseful, careful, musically detailed, and insightful,” this is a long-overdue biography of recording artist and musical legend Peggy Lee.

Miss Peggy Lee cast a spell when she sang. She epitomized cool, but her trademark song, “Fever”—covered by Beyoncé and Madonna—is the essence of sizzling sexual heat. Her jazz sense dazzled Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. She was the voice of swing, the voice of blues, and she provided four of the voices for Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, whose score she co-wrote. But who was the woman behind the Mona Lisa smile?

With elegant writing and impeccable research, including interviews with hundreds who knew Lee, acclaimed music journalist James Gavin offers the most revealing look yet at an artist of infinite contradictions and layers. Lee was a North Dakota prairie girl who became a temptress of enduring mystique. She was a singer-songwriter before the term existed. Lee “had incredible confidence onstage,” observed the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop; yet inner turmoil wracked her. She spun a romantic nirvana in her songs, but couldn’t sustain one in reality. As she passed middle age, Lee dwelled increasingly in a bizarre dreamland. She died in 2002 at the age of eighty-one, but the enchantment with Lee has only grown.

“Raucously entertaining [and] full of evocative scenes, wry humor and exasperated sympathy” (Publishers Weekly), Is That All There Is? paints a masterful portrait of an artist who redefined popular singing.

About The Author

Photograph by Michael Childers

James Gavin is the author of Deep in a Dream, Intimate Nights, and Stormy Weather. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Time Out New York, among other publications. He lives in New York City.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (October 6, 2015)
  • Length: 624 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451641790

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Raves and Reviews

“Gavin’s book is fascinating, suspenseful, careful, musically detailed and insightful…”

– New York Times Book Review

“Astute, unblinking and ultimately dispiriting biography…of a woman who, like her idol Billie Holiday, could never master her own chaos."

– Washington Post

"Absorbing...the meat of Is That All There Is is Gavin’s adroit music writing and the dimension he brings to the details of Lee’s life. His command of the artistry and musicology in the worlds of jazz and Lee’s contemporaries is first rate....Gavin keeps focus on what Peggy Lee was doing musically even as everything else in her life was sensationally spiraling out of control."

– New York Journal of Books

"Gavin numbers among that rare breed of biographer capable of tremendous style and substance, meticulous about detail and accuracy yet blessed with exceptional storytelling élan. what emerges is a masterwork of balanced reporting, unflinchingly honest yet eminently respectful."

– Maclean's (Canada)

"A penetrating portrait of a woman embittered by childhood memories and failed marriages,struggling with alcohol and drugs, yet determined to have a career worthy of her voice…Old and new fans will appreciate this revealing portrait of a troubled and talented woman.”

– Booklist

"[A] stimulating biography of the late jazz chanteuse…raucously entertaining…Full of evocative scenes, wry humor and exasperated sympathy, Gavin’s is an engrossing account of a singular talent."

– Publishers Weekly

"Nobody writes as eloquently, knowledgeably, and page-turningly about the midcentury music heroes who sang—and lived—our American story as James Gavin. His biography of Peggy Lee immerses us in a singular life of radiant self-invention. Peggy Lee patented the unlikely: she was the first white girl who sang (and felt) black. She sounded cool and soft and ironic and understated, making you lean in. This elegant, confident book does that, too."

– Sheila Weller, bestselling author of Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation

"My dad, Nat King Cole, was very friendly with Peggy Lee, his label-mate at Capitol Records. Her mysterious glamour made quite an impression on me. Peggy was a trailblazer—not just as a performer but as a songwriter, at a time when it wasn't very common for singers to write their own songs. James Gavin has captured the essence of the rich musical era that people like my dad and Peggy defined. In his keenly observed, scrupulously researched biography he has also illuminated something very true and touching about the woman behind the glamour. I highly recommend this book."

– Natalie Cole

Praise for Stormy Weather

"Eventful and suspenseful... A thorough and fluent biography."

– The New York Times Book Review

"Magnificent, gripping, marvelously written... [It] may just be one of the best biographies about show business, race, love, sex, and music ever written."

– Liz Smith, Variety

"A fascinating study of a complicated woman and the complicated times that shaped her."

– Usa Today

"In Gavin's capable hands, Lena Horne's story is both uniquely her own and an integral part of a larger cultural story."

– San Francisco Chronicle

“Sympathetic and tough."

– The New Yorker

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