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

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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)

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 Recording Academy.

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."

Page was born Nov. 8, 1927, in Claremore, Okla. The family of three boys and eight girls moved a few years later to nearby Tulsa.

She got her stage name working at radio station KTUL, which had a 15-minute program sponsored by Page Milk Co. The regular Patti Page singer left and was replaced by Fowler, who took the name with her on the road to stardom.

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 in 1947 with "Confess."

She created a distinctive sound for the music industry on that song by overdubbing her own voice when she didn't have enough money to hire backup singers for the single.

"We would have to pay for all those expenses because Mercury felt that I had not as yet received any national recognition that would merit Mercury paying for it," Page once said.

"Confess" was enough of a hit that Rael persuaded Mercury to let Page try full four-part harmony by overdubbing. The result was "With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming." The label read, "Vocals by Patti Page, Patti Page, Patti Page and Patti Page."

"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, and eventually sold more than 10 million copies, behind only "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby at the time.

She received the Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music in 1980. She also is a member of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.

In her later career, Page and husband Jerry Filiciotto spent half the year living in Southern California and half in an 1830s farmhouse in New Hampshire. He died in 2009.

Page is survived by her son, Daniel O'Curran, daughter Kathleen Ginn and sister Peggy Layton.

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