Diving Deep for Sea Shells

LitFire Postcard (1)I wrote about Stella Castellucci’s remarkable life in music. She was born in Los Angeles in 1930 to musician father Louis Castellucci, Stella would go on to continue and further his legacy. Stella joined Peggy Lee’s touring jazz group in 1953. They would form a close friendship that would endure past Peggy’s life. Stella witnessed and took part in a very creative time for Peggy Lee in the 1950s. They would closely collaborate on the 1958 Decca release Sea Shells.

Stella would also appear on the albums: Songs in an Intimate Style (Decca, 1954), Black Coffee (Decca, 1956), Dream Street (Decca, 1957), The Man I Love (Capitol, 1957), Jump for Joy (Capitol, 1958), Pretty Eyes (Capitol, 1960) and Christmas Carousel (Capitol, 1960).

Included are the stories behind the making of these and other classic recordings, including the Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong album Porgy & Bess. Stella remains a devoted friend to her “Big Sister” Peggy, even appearing for Lee’s ninety-second birthday celebrations in North Dakota.

Fans of Jazz, Peggy Lee, harp music, and the album Sea Shells are sure to enjoy the look back. Read an excerpt here.


(2014) First Edition – Balboa Press, 212 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4525-9375-3
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4525-9377-7
E-book ISBN: 978-1-4525-9376-0
This edition is no longer available.

DDfSS cover LitFire (3)

(2015) Second Edition – Revised and Expanded – LitFire Publishing, 206 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-943483-03-7
PDF ISBN: 978-1-943483-04-4
ePub ISBN: 978-1-943483-05-1
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-943483-06-8

This edition is still in print and available.

LitFire approached me to republish Diving Deep for Sea Shells. This gave me the opportunity to redesign the cover. The updated cover contains a photo by Phil Fewsmith. This Second Edition includes: some corrected details, additional stories and photos.


“Along with stories of her time with Lee, Castellucci recounts memories from her decades of work as a session musician and the lives of the members of her large, much-loved family. Overall, this work is a rolling catalog of names, films, records, and songs—some well-known, some obscure, and all of a bygone era, in musical genres that have largely faded into the periphery of public consciousness. Castellucci’s words are conversational and reveal a charming combination of humility, Catholic worldview, and star-struck glee for the famous, talented artists with whom she worked. The book lacks the scandals and reveals of other music-industry memoirs, and the narrative is never quite gripping. However, it does succeed as a window into the way the music industry functioned in the 1950s and ’60s. A quiet, endearing memoir of a musician’s life in Hollywood.” — Kirkus Reviews 

Iván Santiago-Mercado, Author of The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography and Videography:

This book is a pleasure to have. I would like to recommend it to any of us who are fans of Peggy and who like to have our stories told in a straightforward, positive and sincere manner. Just as in an online photo where you see Stella and Edgar sitting together near a table at her home, while she shares her reminiscences with him, the reader in me felt as if I was being treated to the hospitality of someone who had kindly invited me over for coffee, and who, thanks to her good memory, was regaling me with many an interesting story.

From the photo that graces the book’s cover, Peggy plays a prominent, extensive role in Stella’s memories. The healthy dose of black and white photos includes a good number of Peggy pictures never seen anywhere on the Internet or in print. There are also mentions of other vocalists with whom Stella worked in the recording studios, such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and the little-known but very good Laurie Allyn.

John Dash, Amazon:

“Stella Castellucci’s Diving Deep for Sea Shells is a remarkable text. It is both an intimate family story of the greatest American jazz harpist and a key to a nuanced appreciation of major figures in 20th century U.S. popular culture, chief among them jazz singer Peggy Lee.

Castellucci’s title is taken from her account of the development of Lee’s Sea Shells album, recorded at Decca Studios in 1955 and released in 1958. Recognizing the artistic importance of that album more than a half-century later, writer and performer Edgar Amaya began a correspondence with Castellucci which has resulted in the present book, a happy occasion for both the casual reader and the scholarly researcher.

Castellucci was born into a family deeply involved in music production and she carried that tradition through her generation, in the process creating the performance category of jazz harp. Her story opens in the 1880s with the arrival of her maternal great-grandparents from Italy and closes in 2013 as she rides home with friends from a special Johnny Mathis concert. In between, we are treated to family anecdotes, stories of personal triumphs and tragic heartbreaks, acute insights into the art of music and excellent performance, and sharp first-hand observations on the struggles for dignity that have marked our times.”

Vincent P. DeGiorgio, Amazon:

“This is not your conventional biography. A few surprises in this, including the fact that Stella played on a lot of Barry White’s projects. An interesting read, that feels more like a diary of events. An extremely personal book about a life in music.”

Rob McEntarffer, Amazon:

“I loved reading about Stella Castellucci’s remarkable life. I’m amazed at the artists she was able to work with. The book is filled with rich stories about not only her extensive collaborations with Peggy Lee, but MANY other amazing artists (Louis Armstrong! Ella Fitzgerald! Wowza!) It’s a tribute to Stella’s hard work and artistry that she was in such demand for so long!

My other favorite element of the book is the author’s kindness: she takes time to make sure readers know how kind, important, and considerate the people were in her life. Her kindness shines through in the book. If you are interested in the history of Jazz, music from this era, the harp, or just love to read stories from a remarkable life, I recommend this book. Thanks to the authors for their hard work.”

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