Peggy Gilbert earned renown as a female jazz musician, with a career that lasted more than 80 years. When she was only 7 years old, she played piano and violin with her father's music band; she later discovered jazz music, and started to play the saxophone. After high school, she performed in local theatres and resorts, and became a pioneer performer on both radio and television.
Learn more about Peggy Gilbert, free from peggygilbert.org. In 1928 she moved to Hollywood, where she appeared in early movies and toured with Fanchon and Marco vaudeville shows. In 1933 she founded her own all-female jazz band (whose name changed often: from "Peggy Gilbert and Her Metro Goldwyn Orchestra" to "Peggy Gilbert and her Symphonics", etc.), in which she also performed on saxophone, vibes, piano, and vocals. In the 1930s and 1940s Peggy Gilbert and her band performed in the most famous nightclubs in Hollywood, from the "Cotton Club" to the "Cocoanut Grove."
At one of these clubs, Peggy met and fell in love with Kay Boley, a vaudevillian and contortionist who was also performing. During this period, she also appeared in films, toured Alaska with a USO troupe, and began to be an advocate for women musicians.
After a difficult period following the Second World War, in the 1950s Gilbert had success on radio and television programs. In 1974, at 69 years old, she created her last great all-girl band, "The Dixie Belles," with other accomplished musicians from vaudeville and the Big Band era. The group performed with great acclaim on TV and at jazz festivals, appearing on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and in the 1980 Rose Bowl Parade, among many other engagements.
In 1985 the band recorded the album "Peggy Gilbert & The Dixie Belles," which is available on CD (from Cambria Master Recordings).
Peggy Gilbert lived until the age of 102 and died in Burbank, California.