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'Tennessee Waltz' singer Patti Page dies at 85

Entertainer Patti Page, born Clara Ann Fowler in 1927 in Claremore, died New Year's Day at age 85 in Encinitas, Calif.
From staff and wire reports Modified: January 3, 2013 at 9:41 am •  Published: January 3, 2013

Patti Page, the Claremore native who made “Tennessee Waltz” one of the best-selling recordings ever, has died. She was 85.

Page died New Year's Day in Encinitas, Calif., her manager said. She was one of the top-selling female singers in history with more than 100 million record sales and created a distinctive sound for the music industry in 1947 by overdubbing her own voice when she didn't have enough money to hire backup singers for the single, “Confess.”

Besides “Tennessee Waltz,” which sold more than 10 million copies, Page enjoyed iconic success thanks to songs such as “Old Cape Cod,” “Detour,” “Doggie in the Window” and “Allegheny Moon.”

When unspecified health problems finally stopped her decades of touring, though, Page wrote a sad-but-resolute letter to her fans late last year about the change.

“Although I feel I still have the voice God gave me, physical impairments are preventing me from using that voice as I had for so many years,” Page wrote. “It is only He who knows what the future holds.”

Her resilience as a performer, however, kept Page in the spotlight for several decades. Page was one of the last surviving American singers who was popular in the pre-Elvis Presley era when songs on the pop charts leaned more toward innocence than was common in rock 'n' roll. Page proved herself something of a match for the rockers, continuing to place songs on the charts into the 1960s.

Page never kept track, but was told late in life that she'd recorded more than 1,000 songs.

“I never stopped singing and I certainly never retired,” Page told The Oklahoman in 1999. “Of course, when I perform, I do get primarily an older audience, but these people often bring their children or grandchildren along.

“It's interesting, too, that ‘Tennessee Waltz' was my biggest record, but from generation to generation, ‘Doggie in the Window' is the biggest recognition song.”

“Flipside: The Patti Page Story,” a musical developed and written by University of Central Oklahoma faculty member Greg White, recently completed an off-Broadway run at New York's 59E59 Theater. “Flipside,” which premiered at UCO in April 2011, follows Page's career from her early days in Claremore through her success as an award-winning singer and television entertainer.

Page, who was born Clara Ann Fowler in 1927, was a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. She got her stage name working at radio station KTUL, which had a 15-minute program sponsored by Page Milk Co. Page was discovered by Jack Rael, a band leader who was making a stop in Tulsa in 1946 when he heard Page sing on the radio. Rael called KTUL asking where the broadcast originated. When told Page was a local singer, he quickly arranged an interview and abandoned his career to be Page's manager.

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