Patti Page, one of the defining pop singers of the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era in the late ’40s and early ’50s, died on New Year’s Day in Encinitas, Calif. She was 85.
In September, Page — who had maintained a performance schedule of some 50 dates a year into her 80s — announced that she was taking a break from live shows, citing “physical impairments.”
In her prime, the warm-voiced performer was one of pop’s most consistent hitmakers as “the Singin’ Rage, Miss Patti Page.” She charted 80 singles over the course of her long career, reaching the top 10 as late as 1965 with the movie theme “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”
Her biggest record — and one of the most formidable hits of the pre-rock era — was 1950’s “The Tennessee Waltz.” Graced with a luminous multitracked vocal, Page’s remake of Pee Wee King’s 1948 country & Western hit held No. 1 on the national charts for 13 weeks and broke fresh technical ground in pop recording.
She remained a chart presence through the ’50s with such hits as “I Went to Your Wedding” (No. 1 for 10 weeks in 1952) and the inescapable novelty “The Doggie in the Window” (No. 1 for eight weeks in 1953).
A ’50s TV hostess and a top variety show performer, Page segued into acting in the early ’60s, appearing alongside Oscar winners Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones in “Elmer Gantry.”
Explaining the longevity of her career to the New York Times in 2003, Page said simply, “I kept singing.”
She was born Clara Ann Fowler in Claremore, Okla. One of 11 children, she grew up in a household so poor that the family lived without electricity. Singing from an early age, she acquired her professional name at 18 from her pseudonymous predecessor on a 15-minute radio show sponsored by the Page Milk Co. on Tulsa’s KTUL.
After touring with the Jimmy Joy Band, Page became a regular on “The Breakfast Club,” the popular morning show on Chicago’s WLS. She soon acquired her own CBS radio program, and in 1947 she was signed by Mercury Records, her label for the next 16 years.
Under the aegis of Mercury A&R chief Mitch Miller, Page was encouraged to innovate in the studio and became one of the first singers to multitrack her vocals; Les Paul and Mary Ford began releasing their own groundbreaking, technically manipulated singles on Capitol at around the same time. Her first hit “Confess,” credited to “Patti Page and Patti Page” on its label, rose to No. 12 in 1948; 1950’s “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” by “the Patti Page Quartet,” climbed to No. 11.
Page’s first No. 1 single, “All My Love (Bolero),” held the pinnacle for five weeks in 1950. But it paled compared to “The Tennessee Waltz,” released just three months later to capitalize on a Christmas date at New York’s Copacabana. The singer was encouraged to record the country tearjerker by Jerry Wexler, then a writer at Billboard and later an exec at Atlantic Records. Only the Weavers’ similarly long-running “Goodnight Irene” rivaled it in popularity that year. The song proved a harbinger of Page’s later immersion in country music.
Page was a potent force on the pop charts throughout the early ’50s: Other hits of the era included “Would I Love You (Love You, Love You)” (No. 4, 1951), “Mockin’ Bird Hill” (No. 2, 1951), “Detour” (No. 5, 1951), “And So to Sleep Again” (No. 4, 1951), “You Belong to Me” (No. 4, 1952), “Why Don’t You Believe Me” (No. 4, 1952), “Changing Partners “(No. 3, 1953), “Cross Over the Bridge” (No. 2, 1954) and “Let Me Go, Lover!” (No. 5, 1954).
Her biggest hits during the rock ‘n’ roll era were “Allegheny Moon” (No. 2, 1956) and “Left Right Out of Your Heart (Hi Lee Hi Lo Hi Lup Up Up)” (No. 9, 1958).
She maintained her profile on network TV as hostess of “The Scott Music Hall” (NBC, 1953), “The Patti Page Show” (ABC, 1955-58) and “The Big Record” (CBS, 1957-58). Her other features included “Dondi” (1960) and “Boys’ Night Out” (1962); she contributed the title song to the latter pic.
Signed to Columbia in 1963, Page continued to record in a back-dated pop style but also moved laterally into country: Her later singles for the label, which grazed the bottom of the pop charts, included covers of O.C. Smith’s country-soul hit “Little Green Apples” and John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”
A return to Mercury in 1970 saw Page going country in earnest. Working with producer Shelby Singleton, she embraced the style wholeheartedly and charted 15 modest-selling country singles on Mercury, Avco and Singleton’s Plantation imprint through 1982. She duetted with George Jones on the country vocalist’s 1986 Epic album “Wine Colored Roses.”
Her self-released 2000 set “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” — which drew its title from a country-tinged Jesse Winchester song that alluded to Page’s 1950 hit — featured duets with such genre stars as Alison Krauss, Kathy Mattea and Trisha Yearwood.
In 1997, Page summarized her career on her first concert album, “Live at Carnegie Hall: The 50th Anniversary Concert.” The DRG Records collection, comprising her hits, standards and a touch of country, won the 1999 Grammy Award for best traditional pop vocal album. It was the singer’s only Grammy, although she is due to recieve a lifetime achievement kudo from the Recording Academy next month.
Page was married three times. Her first two marriages ended in divorce; third husband Jerry Filiciotto died in 2009. She adopted a son and a daughter with second husband Charles O’Curran. Survivors also include a sister.