Diana Peterson got her start in music thanks to the Navy, a new admiral and a sense of boredom.
"When I first met her, she was very nice and sweet and wanted to know if we could help find some way to make life on the base fun," said Admiral Jerry Miller (ret.), who arrived in Italy at the same time Diana Peterson and her helicopter pilot husband, Gordon, were stationed there in the early 1970s.
Miller, who believes that few musicians are as talented as those who perform in the Navy Band, quickly got to work assembling a performance group, with Diana Peterson as the lead singer.
"She could sing Janis Joplin better than Janis Joplin, then turn around and sing something from ‘The King and I,’" Miller said. "She was an absolute star with such a great stage presence."
Peterson has recently released a collection of Christmas and holiday music, including jazz standards and two original pieces, on a new CD, called "Merry Christmas with Love, Diana."
FOR HER SECOND CD, Peterson called on some old friends from her Navy days, including trumpet player Alan Gaumer, to accompany her on her favorite songs.
"We recorded the whole thing in about six hours and did all the mixing the next day," said Peterson, a Springfield resident. "We had a really good combination of songs and sounds, the album moves really well from song to song."
Calling the collection "upbeat and sparkly," Peterson said the album contains both ballads and happy songs, including "Sleigh Ride," "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "White Christmas" and "Let it Snow," along with two original numbers, "Washington Winter" and "I Love London at Christmastime."
Her version of "Innkeeper and Season of Hope," written by Roger Emerson, was inspired by a Fairfax County Public School musical she once directed, Peterson said.
"There’s a lot more depth to some of the songs than I expected, but I think I was more relaxed (recording her second album) and was better able to stretch myself a little more," Peterson said.
The song "Washington Winter" was originally written for a contest sponsored by a now defunct radio station, WGMF, Peterson said.
"I put everything I had into that song, but it didn’t win," she said. "But that’s OK, the song that one is still played from time to time on some local station."
Her other original number, "I Love London at Christmastime," was written for her mother, Peterson said.
"We moved her up here with us from Florida when she was getting sick, and while she couldn’t carry on a conversation, she liked to hear me sing," she said. "That song is like a walk through the city at the prettiest time of year."
Gordon Peterson said he has enjoyed listening to his wife sing for more than 35 years now and is happy that others can now join the audience.
"It’s a family tradition to listen to her sing on Christmas Eve," he said.
THE NEW CD is "extraordinary, but I’m admittedly biased," he said, adding Diana’s voice is just as strong now as when she was part of the Six Fleet Band in the Navy.
"Music has always been a part of her life and even when we were moving around a lot, she always kept her hand in music somehow," Gordon Peterson said.
He enjoyed the chance to reconnect with their old friends during the recording process.
"Alan (Gaumer) has a very distinct style, almost like Doc Severinsen," Gordon Peterson said, referring to the former bandleader for the NBC Orchestra on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."
Playing piano on the CD is Tim Ford, a local musician who often accompanies Diana Peterson when she plays small shows around the area.
"I was really impressed with the speed at which we were able to record," Ford said. "I’ve worked on some albums for months at a time, but Diana’s such a consummate musician, we went in and did everything very quickly."
The quality of the music was not compromised, Ford said, but the group of musicians Peterson assembled was "just that good."
Ford said he’s proud of the album and is looking forward to talking with others about it.
"Jazz aficionados may hear things differently but overall, the quality of the recording is excellent," he said.
Reunited after more than a decade by Miller, who first introduced them, Gaumer said he was thrilled to work with Peterson again, years after their time in the Navy band.
"She was the featured performer in our groups and just did a knock-out job," said Gaumer, now living in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania.
"Working on the CD was a blast, it was just like the old days," Gaumer said. "Diana knew what she wanted to do before we got into the studio, but she also was very generous and asked me to help with some of the arrangements."
Gaumer said he is a little sad their time together is over for now, but hopes to work with her again in the future.
"She sounded just wonderful, I was blown away," he said. "It obviously meant a lot to her to share these songs, and I think that really comes through on the CD."
Miller, who first gave Diana Peterson a band to sing with, is equally pleased with her performance.
"I bought about 25 (CDs) and I’m going to give them to everyone as stocking stuffers this year," he said.