Music is medicine for the mind

We had dinner with Peggy Lee this past week. Benny Goodman and his band joined us. It was quite lovely.

It all started as my husband and I were preparing an evening meal after a long and busy day. We were trying to come up with a tasty recipe using leftover lamb, orzo and tomatoes. I was cutting the meat into smaller pieces and self-flagellating as to why I had purchased such a big roast in the first place. How much lamb can two people actually eat in the span of a week? I am not entirely sure I even like lamb.

My spouse was trying to locate the large jar of almost-gone, sun-dried tomatoes in the back of the refrigerator and complaining about the need for better icebox organization.

Our black, plastic, pipe-shaped Amazon Alexa sat quietly on the far end of the kitchen counter — awaiting requests. We are still getting used to having an ever-present listening and speaking device in our home. We are trying, “Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” Or, “Alexa, how many calories in a serving of lamb?" Sometimes she will even query us: “Do you need a little music; here’s a station you might like.”

On this particular evening, my husband realized we needed a little music, “Alexa, play tunes by Miss Peggy Lee.” And there it was — the melodic croon of the clear-voiced vocalist filled our kitchen. She started with the classic “I Love Being Here with You.” She and Alexa ran through an entire repertoire of some of Peggy Lee’s most popular tunes. And Benny and his band played along. So did we; the music actually prompted us to turn our kitchen area into a dance floor. Briefly. Nice memory.

Do you remember Peggy Lee? Of course, you do. She was the “stylish, self-assured blonde with a sense of romance” who was the inspiration for Miss Piggy on the "Muppets." I did not know that fact until I asked Alexa to tell me more about this musical legacy. Miss Peggy Lee’s career spanned six decades and four husbands. (Alexa told me that too). By the way, peach was her favorite color. I do not know if she liked lamb.

As we age, tender reflections are often prompted by music we grew up listening to. I remember Peggy Lee’s voice on the radio in our kitchen when I was in grade school; my mother would hum along while fixing supper. My dad would absolutely never have been found in the kitchen helping her, but if he heard a particular tune from his reclined-position-with-newspaper in the living room, he would puff on his pipe and smile a little. At least that’s how I like to recall it.

There’s research that refers to music as “medicine for the mind.” Listening to songs we love keeps our aging brains engaged. It lifts our spirits. Or as Peggy herself might put it, “Bye Bye Blues.”

— Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus at Oregon State University and executive director of Age-Friendly Innovators. Reach her at

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