My father was a Bing guy, crooning “Where the blue of the night meets the gold of the day,” maybe on his way out the door, or “Please, lend your little ear to my pleas,” while he stood at the stove stirring spaghetti sauce, a dishtowel tucked into his waistband. Yet, every so often: “You had plenty of money in 1922 . . .” Ancient financial history. “But you let other women make a fool of you.” Dad in a blue mood, echoing a dark lady’s lament. “Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?” Then he’d sing solemnly into the simmering sauce: “Get out of here and get me some money too.”
I was a resourceful lad, had a bike and paper route money, found the song at Balboni’s Drugs on a 99¢ RCA Camden anthology: Lil Green on vocal, Big Bill Broonzy on guitar. I saw the song was written by Kansas Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie’s ex-husband. Not the old man’s musical neighborhood. He was a Bing guy.
Years later I finally tuned in to the white lady who taught Dad to Do Right: Peggy Lee, Girl Singer and Goddess, holding her own at the mike in front of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra. My father was a Bing guy, but Peggy caught his ear and held on. Peggy. Also my mother’s name: a perfect poetic coincidence. Peggy, spinning Lil Green’s Bluebird 78 in neon hotel rooms on mean rainy Sundays. Something out of Edward Hopper. Something out of Cornell Woolrich. Something out of America the Beautiful and the Cool. Could be he heard it on his sister Viola’s Crosley or on Armed Forces Radio while I was lying in my crib in that Concord Street apartment, my mother reading True Confessions nearby. Peggy and Dad and Lil: a magnificent, melodic ménage a trois. Like Muddy Waters, Lil Green made her way from Clarksdale to Chicago, where she died on my 10th birthday, bequeathing to us the ultimate musical query.