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.
A year later she signed a contract with Mercury Records and began appearing in nightclubs in the Chicago area.
Her first major hit was “With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming,” but she got noticed a few years earlier with “Confess.”
“Tennessee Waltz,” her biggest-selling record, was a fluke.
Because Christmas was approaching, Mercury Records wanted Page to record “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” in 1950.
Page and Rael got hold of “Tennessee Waltz,” convinced that a pop artist could make a smash hit out of it. Mercury agreed to put it on the B-side of the Christmas song.
“Mercury wanted to concentrate on a Christmas song and they didn't want anything with much merit on the flip side,” Page said. “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.”
“Tennessee Waltz” became the first pop tune that crossed over into a big country hit. The waltz was on the charts for 30 weeks, 12 of them in the top 10.
Page performed at the Oklahoma Centennial Spectacular at Chesapeake Energy Arena along with Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill and Reba McEntire in November 2007. She had 24 records in the top 10, including four that reached No. 1.
She was popular in pop music and country and became the first singer to have television programs on all three major networks, including “The Patti Page Show” on ABC. In films, Page co-starred with Burt Lancaster in his Oscar-winning appearance of “Elmer Gantry,” and she appeared in “Dondi” with David Janssen and in “Boy's Night Out” with James Garner and Kim Novak. She also starred on stage in the musical comedy “Annie Get Your Gun.”
In 1999, after 51 years of performing, Page won her first Grammy for traditional pop vocal performance for “Live at Carnegie Hall — The 50th Anniversary Concert.”
Page was planning to attend a special ceremony on Feb. 9 in Los Angeles where she was to receive a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Neil Portnow, the Academy's president and CEO, said he spoke with Page and she had been “grateful and excited” to receive the honor. “Our industry has lost a remarkable talent and a true gift, and our sincere condolences go out to her family, friends and fans who were inspired by her work.”
Contributing: Staff Writers George Lang and Rick Rogers