January 3, 2013

Patti Page, singing sensation, dies at 85

Page was the top-selling female singer of the 1950s with more than 100 million records sold.

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Unforgettable songs like "Tennessee Waltz" and "(How Much Is That) Doggie in the Window?" made Patti Page the best-selling female singer of the 1950s and a star who would spend much of the rest of her life traveling the world.

click image to enlarge

This 1958 file photo shows singer Patti Page. Page, who made "Tennessee Waltz" the third best-selling recording ever, has died. She was 85. Page died on New Year's Day in Encinitas, Calif., according to her manager. (AP Photo, file)

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."

Page died on New Year's Day in Encinitas, Calif., according to publicist Schatzi Hageman, ending one of pop music's most diverse careers. She was 85 and just five weeks away from being honored at the Grammy Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy.

Page achieved several career milestones in American pop culture, but she'll be remembered for indelible hits that crossed the artificial categorizations of music and remained atop the charts for months to reach a truly national audience.

"Tennessee Waltz" scored the rare achievement of reaching No. 1 on the pop, country and R&B charts simultaneously and was officially adopted as one of two official songs by the state of Tennessee. Its reach was so powerful, six other artists reached the charts the following year with covers.

Two other hits, "I Went To Your Wedding" and "Doggie in the Window," which had a second life for decades as a children's song, each spent more than two months at No. 1. Other hits included "Mockin' Bird Hill," ''Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte," and "Allegheny Moon." She teamed with George Jones on "You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine."

"I just loved singing with Patti and she hit notes I never dreamed of," Jones said Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "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."

So special, Page managed to maintain her career when most singers of her generation and their more innocent songs were shoved aside by the swinging hips of Elvis Presley. Page proved herself something of a match for the nascent rock 'n' roll crowd and its obsession with sex, continuing to place songs on the pop charts into the 1960s and the country charts into the '80s.

Page never kept track, but was told late in life that she'd recorded more than 1,000 songs. That's not what she had in her mind growing up as young Clara Ann Fowler.

"I was a kid from Oklahoma who never wanted to be a singer, but was told I could sing," she said in a 1999 interview. "And things snowballed."

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 characterization 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." Her death came just a few days after the conclusion of the run of "Flipside: The Patti Page Story," an off-Broadway musical commemorating her life.

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