She performed with everyone: Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett.
And after 36 years without a recording, singer Peggy King has come out of retirement with a brand new album.
The CD was a long time coming. Despite knowing hundreds of American jazz standards, King had pretty much stopped singing after the deaths of her husband, in 1994, and her son Jonathan, in 2000.
"I couldn't even walk, let alone sing. Not even in the shower, or hum a tune around the house," she recalled in an interview.
"I realized after a few years that my daughter, Suzanne, was suffering, too. She had lost a brother. And I needed to snap out of it," King said.
Nicknamed "Pretty Perky Peggy King," she was one of the best-loved vocalists of television's Golden Age. Her new release, Peggy King and the All-Star Jazz Trio: Songs a la King, on the Fresh Sound Records label, is a return to the public after losing her son to suicide.
Depression debilitated her for years, King said.
"What I didn't realize was that music was the answer," the petite blond torch singer said over the din of fans drinking and celebrating at Square on Square restaurant at 19th and Chestnut Streets, which hosted a CD-release party for her and the All-Star Jazz Trio on Jan. 20.
The foursome performed numbers from their new recording, as well as standards written by Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and Cole Porter. Songs a la King is available from Spotify and Amazon and at www.freshsoundrecords.com.
King was born in Greensburg, Pa., a small town east of Pittsburgh, in 1930. Her rise to stardom was motivated by having no money, she said.
"I came from poverty, and had to find a way to get out of it through singing," King recalled. "The minute I graduated high school, I moved to Cleveland. The radio was looking for singers, and I got the job."
A peer of Judy Garland and Debbie Reynolds, King got her start after auditioning for Mel Torme, who asked her, "Where the hell did you learn to sing like that?"
She told Torme, "From you, listening to all your records."
Torme promptly hired her as "Miss Color TV." King still uses Torme's phrasing and believes that "there's a great deal of Mel in me."
She had guest appearances on The Steve Allen Show, American Bandstand, and The Tonight Show, and was under contract to MGM. She made her big-screen debut in Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful, starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner.
King, who turns 86 in February, got one of the first stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
Then she took a well-publicized break from that fame when she married Sam Rudofker, the owner of After Six formal wear. They lived in the Art Museum neighborhood and raised his sons from a first marriage and two new babies. The couple had a storybook romance until Rudofker died.
For years, King's son struggled with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
"With Johnny, there was something wrong, and no one had a name for it at the time," she said. "He didn't take his medication," and eventually he took his own life.
"People turn to different things when their life turns upside down," she said. "I lost them both in a short period. You either completely fall apart, or you find a way to live with it. I knew the one thing I could count on was singing."
King and her current bandleader, Andy Kahn, met socially at a benefit concert for Musicopia, a music-education advocacy group, in 2013. He asked her to rehearse with his group and said he couldn't believe how many lyrics King remembered.
"I tried to stump her with an obscure song. Peggy started singing the first few verses immediately. She's like the Wikipedia of the Great American Songbook," Kahn said.
King also is mentoring Justin Hopkins, a bass-baritone opera singer from Mount Airy. She spotted him while they were both performing with the Philadelphia Boys Choir. He was just 9 years old.
"I've guided him away from the songs he shouldn't sing. I told him, 'Don't sing junk.' He has a wonderful voice, it's heavenly."
Hopkins gave her purpose after her own son died, King said. "Losing my son when I did, had it not been for Justin, I don't know what I'd do."
In the 2015-16 season, Hopkins will be featured soloist with the Boston Pops and will make his debut with Opera Delaware. He has already performed at Carnegie Hall.
King and the All Star Jazz Trio are booked at Square on Square in Center City every Wednesday through February, and at Feinstein's/54 Below club in Manhattan on March 5. Details at allstarjazz.net.