Singer Peggy Lee leans on a stack of records of her hit tune "Mañana." This record alone should bring in $75,000 in royalties in 1948.
Caption from LIFE. Singer Peggy Lee leans on a stack of records of her hit tune "Mañana." This record alone should bring in $75,000 in royalties in 1948.Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Singer Peggy Lee leans on a stack of records of her hit tune "Mañana." This record alone should bring in $75,000 in royalties in 1948.
With Jimmy Durante on his radio show, Peggy Lee sings a torch ballad. Remarks Jimmy, "If I'm going to sleep, here is the girl I'll dream about."
With husband in Ciro's nightclub in Los Angeles, Peggy sings Trouble Is a Man. One woman went to the club nightly for three weeks to cry over song.
Puppets are characters in a movie called Tom Thumb, for which Peggy and her husband are composing all the music and lyrics. Peggy also sings in the film.
Portrait of singer Peggy Lee in 1948.
Peggy Lee and her dog Banjo at home in California, 1948.
Peggy Lee at home in California, 1948.
Peggy putters with primroses in the garden of Hollywood Hills home while her husband works on a song. Collie is an adopted stray named Banjo.
Peggy Lee painting a plate at home in California in 1948.
Peggy coaches her 4-year-old daughter, Nicki, playing in a family ping-pong match. The child inspired a song written by her father called Forever Nicki.
Peggy Lee reading to her daughter Nicki, at home in California, 1948.
Nicki's goodnight kiss lands on mother's nose. She is uaully sung to sleep with Miss Lee's favorite lullaby, a tune called Soliloquy from Carousel.
Caption from LIFE. Singer Peggy Lee leans on a stack of records of her hit tune "Mañana." This record alone should bring
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Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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See Photos of Peggy Lee as a Rising Star in the 1940s

May 26, 2015

Norma Deloris Egstrom, born in Jamestown, N.D., on May 26, 1920, had a reason to leave her given name behind. After her mother’s death, when Egstrom was 4 years old, her alcoholic father and cruel stepmother made life at home difficult. When a local radio host suggested she go by Peggy Lee instead, the girl formerly known as Norma began a new and sunnier chapter.

LIFE profiled Lee in 1948, when she was 27 and already half a decade into her career as a singer. After two years singing with Benny Goodman’s band and a string of hits in the early 1940s, Lee released the song “Mañana" in January of 1948; it had sold more than a million copies by the time LIFE's profile ran in March. She would go on to win three Grammys, an Oscar nomination and an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, performing into the 1990s until failing health forced her to retire.

But the Lee who LIFE profiled was not just an incredibly successful singer. She was also a working mother: “Betweentimes Miss Lee sees as much as she possibly can of her 4-year-old daughter Nicki. When she cannot, Nicki plays herself to sleep with one of her mother’s records.”

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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