PEGGY LEE AND THE UNC CONNECTION
I have mentioned several times that I try to maintain a backlog of articles at my web master's and write special articles as circumstances dictate. You had no way of knowing it, but several weeks ago, I wrote an article about Jack Wardlaw, a UNC alum who died recently, and it was waiting its turn to be posted.
Ironically, yesterday, I received an e-mail from a Peter Richmond, staff writer for Gentlemen's Quarterly, who explained that he was writing a biography (book) of Peggy Lee and had hit a dead end in finding anything about one of the bands she performed with in her early career and asked if I could provide any assistance. He undoubtedly got my name from a google search since I have mentioned Jack Wardlaw several times in articles on the web site. Since I know quite a bit about Jack Wardlaw. I decided to telephone Mr. Richmond to share the information I had.
I don't know when I have enjoyed a conversation with a stranger more than I did with Mr. Richmond. It was almost as if he wasn't a stranger at all. He had informed me in his e-mail that his mother was a '36 graduate of UNC so I felt a closeness to Mr. Richmond that I might not have felt to most strangers. He is a former sports writer and has written three books previously.
I will have to be careful here not to walk all over the article I have already written about Jack Wardlaw so I will try and limit this article to Mr. Richmond's contact. It will be difficult.
The strange thing about the Peggy Lee/Jack Wardlaw connection (hence UNC) is that during the time that I knew Jack and played the banjo with him in a group known in the Triangle area as The Executives, I never once heard him mention that Peggy Lee had been a vocalist with his band. Jack was the ultimate self-promoter and this fact was ready made for him to use in his role as master-of-ceremonies at our performances. He used his connection with Kay Kyser in this manner and the crowd seemed to always love it. I have to keep in mind that over 30 years have elapsed since I was a part of the Executives so its possible that today's audiences wouldn't know who Kay Kyser or even Peggy Lee were. Let's hope not.
I provided Mr. Richmond with the name of Jack Wardlaw's son who lives in Raleigh and who runs Jack's insurance agency out on Hillsborough St. across from the Bell Tower at N.C. State. I also told him that an article had appeared in the Raleigh Reporter on January 31, 2004 on Jack and his career along with a photo of him and his orchestra at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1934. I would have been 2 years old at that time so I don't remember much about hearing his 14 piece orchestra play, but I do remember hearing my sister talk about going to dances where Jack and his group played at the Country Club in Raleigh after Jack stopped performing on the road. I have an old UNC football program which contains an advertisement for a post game dance. It begins with "Win or Lose" to cover all possible eventualities.
There is no doubt that Peggy Lee sang with the Jack Wardlaw orchestra when she was 15 years old, and it probably will be an eternal mystery why Jack chose not to talk about it. I'm sure all the members of his band were proud when they later heard her sing as the regular female vocalist with Benny Goodman's group.
Peter Richmond says his book is scheduled for release in the spring of '05 and I'll let you know when he notifies me it is at the bookstores.