The Passing of Peggy Cone
By Joe Wood
York’s jazz community has just lost a dear friend and consummate
performer. Charismatic chanteuse Peggy Cone died Monday, February
5, 2001, at age 50 after losing her battle with cancer. She was
truly one of the shining stars of the neo-swing scene, and her talent
and unique sense of style will be greatly missed.
© Julie Brimberg
Cone started her professional singing career ten years ago and eventually
went on to lead one of the best known bands in the Big Apple. As
a child growing up in Long Island, she became fascinated with the
world of show business. She often worked on stage with her mother,
who was an actress. Peggy learned to play the piano and studied
with bebop pianists Barry Harris and Jackie Paris. But music would
have to wait. Cone first put her creative talents to use studying
fashion design and working as a fashion stylist for ten years at
Atlantic Records, where she dressed other performers.
the age of 40, Peggy decided to pursue music as a fulltime
career. In 1993, she took to the stage with her own jazz
trio. The following year, she shone even brighter when
she assembled her swing band, The Central Park Stompers.
Performing with the Stompers, Peggy was finally able to
combine her fashion flair with her wonderful voice. Her
live performances took on a vaudeville flavor, influenced
by her deep appreciation of Busby Berkeley. It was
not uncommon for Cone to change costumes several times
throughout a show, wearing extravagant gowns from the
1940s and ’50s, and colorful feather boas. She was quite
possibly the queen of vintage shopping. Fans would
report sighting Peggy and her trademark pompadour-esque
hairdo at vintage fairs up and down the East Cost. She
became a total fashion maven whose picture often ended
up in the Style section of the New York Times or
in Timeout NY.
a voice that was smooth and at times sultry, Peggy Cone wowed the
jazz reviewers as well as the Lindy dancers. Her first release,
Peggy Cone Sings (1993), was a soft torchlight style performance.
But in 1999, when Peggy and her band released their self-titled
CD, Peggy Cone and The Central Park Stompers, she’d caught
the swing bug. Wasting no time, Peggy and the Stompers released
their next CD, Bad Girl Shoes, in early 2000. Cone reportedly
had a fourth CD, Take Note, in production, which was slated
to be completed last year.
© Julie Brimberg
appeared to be in perpetual promotion mode when it came to her
band. She was always turning up at swing-related parties
and events on the East Coast and would contact everyone she met
to be sure that they had heard her music. All of her hard
work paid off. Peggy Cone performed at the rededication
ceremony for Grand Central Station in 2000, as well as at New
York’s premier jazz venue, Birdland; Tavern on the Green; the
Brooklyn Museum for the opening of its Monet Exhibition; and countless
clubs and halls around the country.
the best-known female performer in the East coast swing scene,
Peggy Cone will be remembered for the personal attention that
she paid to her fans and peers. Very few people knew that she
was ailing for the past several months. She hadn’t told many friends
that she was battling cancer; I’m not sure how I knew. I think
she was determined not to let it get her down.
© Julie Brimberg
fall, Peggy sent me a copy of Bad
Girl Shoes. Listening to her music, I realized that
her masterful voice harkened back to the styles of Billie Holliday
and Josephine Baker. It was confident and smooth.
I sent her a letter thanking her for recording such a beautiful
rendition of “World on a String.” Peggy responded immediately,
telling me how Barbara Streisand was one of her favorite singers,
and how she had so much fun recording Bad Girl Shoes.
She was especially proud of the fact that all the shoes on the
album cover belonged to her and was amazed at how large her vintage
clothing collection had become. I
know that Peggy was truly happy with her work. She would
tell me repeatedly how much she appreciated the outpouring of
support from her fans. Now I am left to wonder if “World
on a String” was closer to her philosophy of life than I first
realized. Maybe my recognition of how much she loved that
song is what sparked our brief friendship.
is a beautiful thing,
as long as I hold a string,
I'd be a silly so and so,
if I should ever let you go...
got the world on a string,
sittin' on the rainbow,
Got a string around my finger,
what a life, what a world, I'm in love...