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The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography:
Observations About The Song "Mañana"

by Iván Santiago

Page generated on Sep 17, 2021

I. Contents And Authorship

The present page contains some factual details and personal observations about the song "Mañana." The tune is indelibly connected to Peggy Lee, who wrote its lyrics and was the first to record it. My source for most of the factual details was the singer's own autobiography. This page should be deemed a supplement to the 1946-1947 section of my sessionography.

II. The Origins Of "Mañana"

In her autobiography, Peggy Lee described the initially distressing but ultimately joyful circumstances that surrounded the composition of "Mañana." After Dave Barbour survived a nearly fatal ulcer (possibly brought about by his addiction to alcohol), he and his wife celebrated by taking a long-postponed vacation as part of his recuperation: "we packed our luggage and ourselves into our convertible and drove to the Rosarita Beach Hotel, down between Tijuana and Ensenada ...[...]... After all the stress we had been under, it was also a perfect change. The totally relaxed attitude of the people was just what we needed after the tension in the hospital ...[...]... I was so impressed with the seemingly happy, relaxed spirit of the place that ... you might have guessed ... it inspired me to write the song Mañana. David got his guitar out, and we had so much fun putting it together."

III. The Recording Of "Mañana"

Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour recorded their composition at a Capitol session held on November 25, 1947, in the company of a group that was billed as Dave Barbour's Brazilians. In her autobiography, Lee reveals the real identity of these musicians, and the manner in which they came to participate in the session: "Carmen Miranda was often a guest with Durante [i.e., Jimmy Durante, on whose radio show Lee was the regular vocalist from 1947 to 1948], and she had called me about using her musicians. She also recommended classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida, who played with me for quite a while. What a dear lady Carmen was, and The Brazilians were perfect for Mañana." The musicians were indeed tailor-made for a session which was dedicated to the recording of novelties, including another eventual hit, "Caramba, It's The Samba."

As was the case with another major hit that Lee had had back when she was recording for Columbia with The Benny Goodman Orchestra, the recording of this song and the setting up of the date was probably motivated in part by an unusual event in the music industry: an impending ban that would prevent American unionized musicians from doing any studio recording. The ban did not go into effect until January 1, 1948 (and Peggy Lee was among a small number of vocalists who, out of solidarity with the musicians, abstained from doing any studio recording during the period), but during November and December Capitol rushed Lee and other roster members into the studio, to record session after session, in preparation for the upcoming months of potential non-activity. (It may well be that part of Carmen Miranda's suggestion involved having Lee hire The Brazilians for recording sessions during the ban period. If so, Lee must have kindly proposed having them accompanying her for a pre-ban date only. Peggy Lee was among a small number of vocalists who, out of solidarity with the musicians, abstained from doing any studio recording during the period.)

A breakdown from the recording of "Mañana" has survived, and producer Ron Furmanek commendably released it in Lee's 1990 CD The Early Years, from Capitol's Collector Series. The "Mañana" breakdown occurs as the musicians are chanting the title word. Producer Lee Gillette stops the take and asks the musicians to sing again, without instrumentation. A few seconds into this vocal testing, two of the musicians are asked to change places. Gillette addresses one of them in particular: you, sing down, don't sing loud, 'cause your voice is sticking out. The musician responds with an okay, and Lee with a polite, sympathetic laugh. Thereafter, they proceed to record the next take.

"When we recorded the song," continues Lee in her autobiography, "we used ... [a] ... board fade ... a gradual turning down of the volume on the studio recording equipment until the sound completely fades out. In this case, though, The Brazilians actually sambaed out of the studio and down the street, playing and singing mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me!"

IV. "Mañana" As Part Of Peggy Lee's Canon Of Self-Composed Songs

A current of optimism is common to many of Peggy Lee's self-penned hits from the 1940s. Lyrics like "It's A Good Day" and "Everything's Moving Too Fast" center on enjoying life, no matter how hectic or chaotic it might be. "Mañana" offers a picaresque variation on the same theme. The lyric portrays a blissfully content señorita who breezily procrastinates at every occasion. More generally, the song's brand of humor exemplifies a comedic style that was favored on 1940s radio programming -- including The Jimmy Durante Show, which happened to hire Lee herself as its regular vocalist on the same year in which she recorded "Mañana."

V. "Mañana" In The Midst Of Controversy (Part 1): Bias Allegations

Another drawback stemmed from the portrait of the song's main character. Lee brings her to life in the Mexican-sounding accent that was typically used by comedians of the time. As a result, the number was met with a few complaints from listeners who mistook the señorita's "self-confessed" procrastination for cultural mockery or, worse yet, an accusation of laziness. The reaction was by no means widespread; to this day, there are listeners of Mexican heritage who claim to find nothing but charm in the lyrics. But the situation was still a source of distress for the singer. From her viewpoint, the character was by no means representative of an entire culture or race -- as the song's critics perceived it -- but merely a humorous portrait of one happy-go-lucky individual. If anything, her wacky character's attitude (a combination of laissez faire and joie de vivre) was to be envied rather than criticized, she felt. In years to follow, the singer would repeatedly express regret over the matter, and would protest that no sense of malice had been involved.

Lee enjoyed imitating voices and accents. On the matter of "Mañana," she further commented that the accent she used would have probably been different if the vacation that inspired the song had taken place elsewhere. The accent could as well have been Swedish/Norwegian (per her own heritage) or German (which she tried in an appearance on the TV show "What's My Line?") or Italian (used in another recording of hers, "Who's Gonna Pay The Check?").

Careless and simple-minded listening accounts for most detractions of the song's lyrics. For one, nowhere in the song is the señorita held up on a pedestal and labeled a representative of an entire country or heritage. Detractors also fail to notice how the señorita's mother is described by her: "My mother's always working, she's working very hard." Unless the señorita is of mixed background (a possibility not supported anywhere in the lyrics), her hardworking mother presumably shares the same heritage as the señorita and her siblings. If one of the song's characters is to be named a cultural representative (despite any signals in the lyrics that any of them should be) the mother is as deserving a choice as the blissfully carefree señorita and her seemingly typical, perhaps adolescent siblings.

VI. "Mañana" In The Midst Of Controversy (Part 2): The Lawsuit

The success of "Mañana" brought about a few drawbacks for Barbour and Lee. For one, it elicited an unsavory case of opportunism. The Barbours were hit with a three-million-dollar lawsuit from a banjo player who claimed to have written the melody of "Mañana" back in 1919. Walter C. McKay's claim, which largely hinged on his statement that he had originally composed the tune as a samba, was discredited during the court proceedings, which Lee recounts in humorous fashion in her autobiography. New York Supreme Court Judge Isidor Wasservogel threw the case out of court in December 1950. Among those who had testified in favor of the Barbours were comedian-pianist Jimmy Durante and ASCAP's then-president Deems Taylor.

VII. Reception of "Mañana"

Released in January of the then-new year, "Mañana" became one of the top hits of 1948 and one of that year's million sellers. Capitol Records ranked it as the #2 tune of the company''s first decade of existence. "Mañana" also fared well abroad. For additional details, consult the notes under the session dated November 25, 1947, in this discography's 1946-1947 section.