Black Coffee: Peggy Lee’s Intimate Portrait of Heartbreak and Longing

Last Updated on May 1, 2023 by Timothy Byron Smith

Peggy Lee’s “Black Coffee” is a seminal album in the singer’s career. Though Lee was already a successful musician with a string of hit singles, “Black Coffee” was among her first albums. It was recorded in 1953 across three sessions with producer Milt Gabler and features pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist Max Wayne, drummer Ed Shaughnessy, and trumpeter Pete Candoli.

The album is known for its blend of languor and nocturnal reverie that established Lee as a torch-song goddess. The album’s theme is a darker exploration of imperfect love relationships that many people could relate to. Lee’s husky voice conveyed raw emotions, especially in the title track, where she made the song her own.

Pete Candoli’s muted trumpet and commentary during the vocal parts of each song served as Lee’s male counterpart, especially in songs like “Black Coffee” and “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.”

“Black Coffee” was one of the first concept albums with a thread linking the songs together, and its melancholy mood was achieved through instrumentation, which perfectly shadowed Lee’s vocals with shards of bluesy melody.

This song explored how Peggy Lee embodies a sense of vulnerability and loss in its lyrics and musical arrangement. It could delve into the themes of love and heartbreak that are woven throughout the song, and how Peggy Lee’s vocal performance adds an extra layer of emotional depth.

Peggy Lee’s “Black Coffee” is an album that showcases the singer’s ability to bring more than one meaning to a song and use innuendo. Lee keeps a veil over herself, and her meanings sometimes permit people to interpret it however they want to interpret it.

This is an album that marks the beginning of Lee’s exploration of the imperfect love relationships that were to become one of her hallmarks as an American singer.

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