Peggy March's 'Follow' Still The Leader
Peggy March's 'Follow' Still The Leader

On the Billboard Hot 100 dated April 27, 1963, Little Peggy March began a three-week reign with "I Will Follow Him." Fifteen years, one month and 13 days old when her command began, March remains the youngest solo female to top the tally.

More than 47 years later, the record belonging to March's debut smash, and the first of her five Hot 100 hits in 1963-64, faces a challenger.

Willow Smith, who turned 10 Oct. 30, soared 78-11 last week with "Whip My Hair." The song rocketed after its digital release, debuting on the Digital Songs survey at No. 4.

With Smith proving a contender for chart history, Chart Beat spoke to the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based March, who, long ago - and, happily - dropped the "Little" from her recording name. ("I was only 4'10" when I signed with RCA," she says. "My producers thought the term was cute").

The singer born Margaret Annemarie Battavio discussed her evergreen introductory No. 1, life as a teen pop star and her first album of all-new material in English since 1979, "Always and Forever," released last month on Night Dance Records.

After your run of U.S. chart hits, you've made yourself at home on European charts singing in several languages. Please tell us how you came to record your first English-language album after such a lengthy break.

An English friend/fan of mine, Darren Harvey-Beswick, for some time now has wished for a new album "in my own language," as he said. Since I have recorded for so many years in German, Japanese, Italian and Spanish, that was all he could find on eBay or Amazon.com.

As executive producer, he introduced me to a young Dane who is rising in dance music, Soren Jensen. He asked me if I wanted to record with him. I told Darren that I love recording, but it is so important that the artist is somehow otherwise involved than solely as a singer. And, most important of all is ... the song, the song, the song.

Soren sent me a half-finished song, which I liked. I edited the lyrics, then he sent me a melody and the finished track became the new album's opening cut, "Everyday's a New Day." We continued like that until we had 10 of the album's 13 songs, always getting better and better, in my opinion.

I wrote the lyrics for all but one song and partnered with writers other than Soren for three, including "When the Rain Begins to Fall." Originally a European No. 1 for Jermaine Jackson and Pia Zadora in 1984-85, I've re-recorded the song with German star Andreas Zaron.

The process was challenging but fun and I am happy with the results.

Please take us back to the origins of "I Will Follow Him." What do you remember about its recording and release?

I was 13 when I signed with RCA and was not allowed an opinion of any kind. When my recording of the title song of the musical "Little Me" was not a success, my producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore (who had co-written Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love") were seeking new material. I remember seeing the lead sheet of "I Will Follow Him" on their desk.

I took it home to work on it - "too repetitious," I thought, but that is what makes a great hook. I recorded the song in December 1962 with a huge orchestra in Studio A on 23rd Street in New York. It was released as a single Jan. 22, 1963.

Do you remember when "I Will Follow Him" reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 and your reaction?

I was going to Catholic school in my small town of Lansdale, Pa. I was a freshman and I can still see myself, in my school uniform, wiping the Friday night dishes and listening to WABC/New York.

We listened every week, as "I Will Follow Him" climbed the chart. That one night that the No. 2 record was not "I Will Follow Him" I was devastated for two minutes and 30 seconds, thinking it had fallen off the chart. Until they announced No. 1. I remember standing in the middle of my mother's kitchen with a dishrag in my hand. Time stood still as I was looking at the radio and listening to me sing. After the song was over, all hell broke loose and the phone didn't stop ringing.

Making the No. 1 spot in Billboard was just ... "wow."

What was it like conquering U.S. radio at such a young age? Did you ever feel burdened by a career as a teen, or was the chance to present your music to the world more rewarding than any challenges you may have faced?

My priority was not getting my message out musically. I was extremely shy and I was always concerned with my school work ... a Latin test, or algebra, etc. I only felt burdened when I would come home from a trip abroad and I didn't know who was going out with whom, or didn't get asked out on dates, or missed the high school football games. But, I was seeing the world and I loved that.

I was, though, looked upon differently by many of my schoolmates, even though I didn't think I had changed at all. It was, I think, just because I was away for long periods of time, was singing in different languages and had been to countries that one only reads about. Maybe I was naive but I considered myself very lucky.

What is it about "I Will Follow Him" that has kept the song a pop culture staple for almost 50 years?

I'm really not sure. Of course, with its usage in "Sister Act" in 1992 with Whoopi Goldberg it found a new life. Simply, it was meant to be.

Do you think it's more difficult for younger artists today to deal with stardom, considering the many more platforms and responsibilities they face?

Everything is different now. Young artists are completely in the open, all the time. I didn't have people fawning much all over me and I was embarrassed when they did. I still had to wash the dishes at home and clean the kitchen floor when I wasn't traveling. And ... that damned Latin test. I think that was a good thing.

What current artists and genres do you enjoy listening to?

I like a good melody and a good lyric. Country is what I listen to in the car. I am a big Brad Paisley fan. His lyrics are different; sometimes funny, other times heartfelt. He has an instantly recognizable voice and plays a hell of a guitar. And, he is not alone in that genre. I could name quite a few.

How fond are you of new and social media?

I have found excerpts on YouTube of TV shows I had been on that originally ran live years ago, which I find fun.

I have a Facebook account, which I thought is a good way to promote the new album.

I have an official website, but I have held off of Twitter. I do have other things to do ...

Willow Smith still has 10 positions to go on the Hot 100 in order to eclipse your standing as the youngest female to reach No. 1. How does it feel to hold one of the longest records in pop music history?

It is really something, especially considering that the business is so different today. In 1963, we had only radio and an occasional TV show such as "American Bandstand," or a local equivalent thereof. That's it.

However, records are broken every day. If Willow Smith does go to No. 1, I'll be happy to "pass the torch" to her and wish her well.

If not, I wouldn't mind my record holding for another three years, until 2013. I wouldn't mind holding on to the title for an even 50!