Over the past fifteen years, George Peele, who goes by Orange Peel Moses, has delivered more than 3,000 singing telegrams.
Valentine’s Day is usually the biggest day of the year for his business, but he’s also performed for a guy getting a vasectomy and a person celebrating the last day of chemo; anniversaries, proposals and going-away parties also keep him employed.
While Peele stays busy doing singing telegrams, he’s performed around the world as various characters on stilts. He’s also a singer-songwriter and electronic artist, and he’s gearing up to release a single, “Butterflies,” which he’s calling an “insect-infused love song." Produced by Daniel Iyere, the song was inspired in part by Cirque du Soleil’s insect-themed show Ovo and the British band The xx. Peele also plans to release versions of the song remixed by Axis Youth and Joman.
These days, Peele still encounters some who don't know that singing telegrams are a real thing outside of television and movies. “We have to explain to them what it is. Recently, I told someone on Christmas that I was a live-action Christmas card. We’re kind of like live-action greeting cards.”
On Valentine’s Day, Peele performs as Cupid, dressed in a diaper and wings, while other days of the year, his jobs are quite varied, and he’s got more than seventy costumes to draw from.
“The most popular thing that we do is the Beatles' ‘Birthday’ in a gorilla costume with a tutu, because the Beatles are such a popular band," Peele says. "The Beatles’ ‘Birthday’ is such a good birthday song. That’s the most popular request. And a gorilla in a tutu is just a classic singing telegram costume; it’s been around for decades. It kind of makes sense. People think animals in human clothes are funny, and they have for a long time.”
On Valentine’s Day a few years ago, Peele, dressed in a spandex clown-fish costume, took his guitar to a swim meet to serenade one of the swimmers.
“She insisted on going outside,” Peele says. “I had the singing telegram delivered outside of the building, where there were less people. And then, as I was singing to her, she was literally talking herself through it the entire time, like, ‘This will be over soon. It’s going to be okay.’”
Peele says singing telegrams are often used as a prank or to embarrass people. “That’s our job, too. We’re willing conspirators.”
Take Jeremih’s “Birthday Sex,” which Peele says is one of the most embarrassing birthday songs that can possibly be done in an office or business setting.
“I did that as a unicorn once for a boss, from all of his female employees,” Peele says. “He was nervous, and afterward, I don’t think any one person took credit. I think they all shared the credit. He was like, ‘Whoever is responsible for this, I’ll see you in my office.’”
Peele has also helped a woman quit her job. While waiting to track down her boss, her co-workers were getting nervous with anticipation, wondering what was going to happen and if it would be fun.
“This boss finally comes back, and we sang barbershop style about how bad the job was and how shitty the working conditions were,” Peele says, “The person’s color just drained out of their face after we sang to them. All of her co-workers just slowly walked away.”
Peele and his company excel at writing lyrics tailored to clients. Some songs are originals, and others are parodies of popular hits.
“The family or the friend or whoever is ordering the telegram will give us all these often intimate, weird, strange details about this person, and then we take those, and we usually use some emotional connection for the person or sometimes for the occasion,” Peele says.
“So you take one of your favorite songs and then have the lyrics rewritten to be all about you and with all these inside jokes and some secrets," he explains. "And then we put it all in the song and embarrass the hell out of you or do our best to embarrass the hell out of you in front of whoever’s watching.”
Peele, who’s a big fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic, has been writing parody songs since high school. Around that time, he envisioned singing a song about someone in their living room.
“I’d seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I didn’t really connect it to that nurse that comes to Ferris’s house in the movie,” Peele says. “I think that was the only movie singing telegram I’d seen at that point. That was the most memorable one. I just envisioned what it was. I just didn’t know what it was called or anything at that point.”
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While at college, Peele studied music and writing, and years after college, he had a friend who was doing occasional belly-grams for a singing telegram agency (and who’s now a world-famous belly dancer). He needed a job, he had the skill, and so he took a gig with the company.
Now heading up his own company, Peele says to be good at singing telegrams, you have to be a fearless and confident performer while having a flexible schedule, a good ear and an outgoing personality. Punctuality and perseverance also help.
“I’m super-outgoing, and I think the other singers who work for me are definitely super-outgoing,” Peele says. “You have to have a lot of love and passion and dedication to really kind of give it your all and ensure that the majority of them go as well as they possibly can. You can’t control every factor, but there’s a lot that’s in your control.”
Order your own singing telegram from Peele at his website.