Music icon Patti Page died on New Year’s Day in Encinitas, California. She was 85 years old. The best-selling female artist of the 1950s, she was best known for her signature song, “Tennessee Waltz.” Other hits included “The Doggie in the Window,” “All My Love” and “I Went to Your Wedding.”
“I was a kid from Oklahoma who never wanted to be a singer, but was told I could sing,” she told Billboard in a 1999 interview. “And things snowballed.”
Written by Red Stewart and Pee Wee King, Patti’s “Tennessee Waltz” was one of the earliest country crossover hits, reaching No. 1 on the pop, country and R&B charts in 1951. The single sold more than 10 million copies, second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” at the time. “Tennessee Waltz” was named the Tennessee state song in 1965.
“I knew that it was important,” she told the Tennessean in 2000. “I have always enjoyed singing it. I have never tired of it.”
Born November 8, 1927 as Clara Ann Fowler in Claremore, Oklahoma, Patti got her stage name while working at radio station KTUL, which had a 15-minute program sponsored by Page Milk Co. When the regular “Patti Page” singer left, Patti took her place as well as the name that would travel with her to stardom.
Patti was discovered by Jack Rael, a band leader who was passing through Tulsa in 1946 and heard Patti signing on the radio. He called KTUL and asked where the broadcast originated. After learning Patti was a local singer, he set up an interview and left his career to become her manager. A year later, she signed with Mercury Records and became a regular on the nightclub circuit in Chicago.
Patti’s first hit was “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” but she caught the attention of many a few years earlier with “Confess” in 1947. The recording and subsequent success of “Tennessee Waltz” was an accident. Her label wanted her to record “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” in 1950, but she and Jack Rael had found “Tennessee Waltz” and knew it could be a hit. The label agreed to put it on the B-side of the Christmas track.
“Mercury wanted to concentrate on a Christmas song and they didn’t want anything with much merit on the flip side,” Patti told Billboard. “They didn’t want any disc jockeys to turn the Christmas record over. The title of that great Christmas song was “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” and no one ever heard of it.”
Patti was a regular on the music and variety shows of television’s Golden Age and was the only musical performer in history to have her own series on all three major networks. She also spent some time on the silver screen. She co-starred with Burt Lancaster in his Oscar-winning Elmer Gantry and had roles in Dondi with David Janssen and Boy’s Night Out with James Garner and Kim Novack. She also starred on stage in Annie Get Your Gun.
Several country artists shared their memories of Patti and offered their condolences. She recorded “You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine” with George Jones who remembers her as an incredible singer. “I just loved singing with Patti and she hit notes I never dreamed of!” he said. “We cut some songs together and it was a great time. She’ll be missed by lots of folks and everybody needs to know how great she was. Patti was a wonderful singer with a real special voice.”
Crystal Gayle shared a similar sentiment. “Sad to hear of the passing of Patti Page,” she wrote on Facebook. “She was a wonderful singer and had a great heart and soul! I’m sure she’s waltzing in Heaven.”
Charlie Daniels has been singing Patti’s signature song for years. “We’ve been using Patti Page’s Tennessee Waltz to open our show for decades. We salute you Mam,” he tweeted when he learned of her passing.
Patti was honored with the Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music in 1980 and also elected to the CMA’s board of directors. She is a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and was set to receive a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award next month. Patti is survived by her son Daniel O’Curran, daughter Kathleen Ginn and sister Peggy Layton.
PATTI PAGE MEMORIAL INFORMATION
Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 10:00 a.m.
Solana Beach Presbyterian Church
120 Stevens Avenue
Solana Beach, CA 92075
Burial will be private
Flowers can be sent to:
El Camino Memorial – Sorrento Valley
5600 Carroll Canyon Road
San Diego, CA 92121
Memorial donations can be made to:
Society of Singers, Inc.
26500 W. Agoura Rd., 102-554
Calabasas, CA 91302
Attn: Annual Giving
3030 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404