With her career in her US homeland all washed by the time she was 16, singer Little Peggy March packed up her mascara and mini-skirts and headed for Europe. She became a huge star in Germany in particular, scoring a string of hits from 1964. She even moved to Munich at the end of the decade.
She was born Margaret Brattavio on 8 March 1948 in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, in the US.
She began performing on local television from the age of just five. In 1961, while singing at a family wedding, she was spotted by Russell Smith, who offered to become her manager. He secured her an audition at RCA records, and she was signed immediately.
Label bosses renamed her Little Peggy March – Peggy is a common diminutive of Margaret, March came from her month of birth and Little was added because of her age and her height (she was just 147cm, or 4’ 10”). She hated her stage name, feeling that it served only to underline her size and youth.
Little me became her first US release, in 1962, and again played up on her height. It flopped, and the search began for a song that would give her a hit.
The answer came in the form of a French song by British singer Petula Clark that had topped the charts in France in 1962, Chariot. It was given English lyrics and issued as I will follow him. It went to number one in the US that April and became a worldwide smash.
In Germany, it sailed into the top ten in the summer of 1963 – despite being issued just two months after Petula Clark’s German version of the song, Cheerio, became a top ten hit.
Back at home, further singles I wish I were a princess and Hello heartache, goodbye love, limped into the charts later that year. Indeed, within less than a year of scoring her US number one, the hits had completely dried up in America. In part this was as a result of the British beat boom and also because she was still too young to be able to promote her records properly through touring.
However, she had recorded versions of some of her early material in a variety of other languages, including French, German, Italian and Spanish, so it was perhaps inevitable that Pennsylvania’s princess of pop chose to shift her reign to Europe instead.
Despite her Italian roots and some early success in Italy, Germany became the focus of her efforts. Although her pronunciation was a little shaky on some of her earliest German releases, she very soon mastered the language. She also continued to record in other languages sporadically.
Tino, a version of her Dream world, had been her first German-language release, in 1963. The disc flopped and fans now prefer the flip, Bobby küsst wunderbar, a version of her Oh-oh, I’m falling in love again.
Once she was teamed with Henry Mayer and Hans Bradtke – who between them wrote hits for Gitte, Wencke Myhre, Conny Froboess and later for Alexandra, Manuela, Italy’s Rita Pavone and French
yé-yé girl France Gall – Peggy’s career took off in Germany. Many of her records played on her nationality, either by including English words or adopting American styles, such as country and western.
Lady Music, issued in 1964, gave the young singer her first top 20 hit. Wenn der Silbermond and Lady Music-soundalike Hallo Boy followed suit later that year. (For the latter, Little was dropped from her stage name.)
Good bye, good bye, good bye was even more successful, making the top ten in early 1965.
But it was the sentimental Mit 17 hat man noch Träume that proved the turning point in Peggy’s career in Germany. It was one of two songs she performed at the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele, held in June 1965 (the other was Liebesbriefe). She scored a convincing win at the contest, seeing off competition from the likes of Wencke Myhre, Siw Malmkvist, Dorthe and Conny Froboess. The song shot to number two and spent four months on the charts.
It also became one of a number of her German songs that she re-recorded in English for release back in the US. (Interestingly, she also issued an English-language version of Marion’s massive Er ist wieder da – retitled He’s back again – in America.)
However, for a brief while, it looked as though Peggy was not going to be able to build on her success. Subsequent releases varied in quality, and Die schönen Stunden geh’n schnell vorbei, Hundert Jahre und noch mehr, Sweetheart schenk mir einen Ring all made only the lower reaches of the charts – and Sechs Tage lang and Die Antwort weiß allein der Wind (a cover of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the wind, issued as a duet with Benny Thomas) failed altogether.
If that wasn’t worrying enough, Peggy also ran into financial troubles. Because of her youth, manager Russell Smith had been put in charge of looking after her earnings. However, by this time it transpired he had squandered her fortune, leaving her with just $500.
Chart – and financial – salvation came with the release of Memories of Heidelberg in March 1967, which made the top five and spent 21 weeks on the charts. However, its success came at a price. The song was far more Schlager than many of her previous releases and undeniably affected many of her subsequent records. (For many, the flip, the thumping Male nicht den Teufel an die Wand, was the better side, and the song was also re-recorded for the US market as This heart wasn’t made to kick around.)
The follow up, Romeo und Julia, issued in September that year, gave the singer her only German chart topper. It has become something of a Schlager classic, though again, fans tend to prefer the B-side, Spar dir deine Dollar.
1968’s slew of releases – Telegramm aus Tennessee, Canale Grande Number One, Das ist Musik für mich and Mississippi Shuffle Boat – served to confirm her popularity but are perhaps best overlooked by all but the most dedicated of followers. A makeover that year saw her shed her puppy fat and swap her short brown locks for a sexy long blond hairdo.
Such was Peggy’s popularity by 1969 that her new manager and husband, Arnie Harris (the pair had married the previous year), suggested that they move from New York to Munich. The couple initially intended to remain in Germany for just a few years, but ended up staying for 12.
Peggy was invited to take part in the 1969 national final to select Germany’s entry for the Eurovision song contest, alongside fellow stars Siw Malmkvist and Rex Gildo. She performed three songs, of which Hey, also known as Hey (das ist Musik für mich), was voted through to the final round. Although she had been the pre-contest favourite, she ended in second place, while Siw Malmkvist’s Primaballerina was chosen for the pan-European pop fest. (Ironically, Peggy went on to issue a German version of British singer Lulu’s Boom bang-a-bang, one of the four songs that won the contest in Madrid.)
The hits continued that year, with Bahama Lullabye and In der Carnaby Street both making the top 20, while Mister Giacomo Puccini – a tune she had performed at the RTL international grand prix song festival – became her final release of the decade.
Peggy’s career ran out of steam in 1972, and in 1975 she found herself trying again to win a place as Germany’s entrant to the Eurovision song contest. However, her Alles geht vorüber, penned by Ralph Siegel, finished second in the national final to Joy Fleming’s excellent Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein. (Peggy’s disappointment was, presumably, tempered when Joy finished 17th out of 19 at the contest in Stockholm.)
She made a return to the German top ten in 1977 with Fly away pretty flamingo, which had been written by Drafi Deutscher, and went on to issue the disco-flavoured Electrifying album two years later.
In 1981 she returned to the US. By this time she had begun songwriting, and in the early 1980s, she co-wrote songs for Jermaine Jackson and Pia Zadora and for actress Audrey Landers (Afton in TV’s Dallas), which became big hits in Germany.
The Schlager revival in the 1990s brought Peggy back to Germany, and she recorded several new albums over the course of the decade and into the 2000s.
She continues to tour Germany and the US to this day.