Patti Page dies; sang ‘Tennessee Waltz’ other hit pop songs

January 2, 2013

Patti Page, the “Singing Rage” who became one of the most successful female singers of all time with dozens of pop hits, including the forlorn “Tennessee Waltz” and the yappy but irresistibly likable “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window,” died Jan. 1 in Encinitas, Calif. She was 85.

Her manager, Michael Glynn, confirmed her death but said he did not yet know the cause.

With a husky, often alluring voice, Ms. Page was a superstar of the post-World War II era. It was a time when American celebrities still resembled girls and boys next door and when chart-toppers were manufactured to appeal to listeners of all ages.

Her music was critically derided as bland and utterly unadventurous even at the time, but 100 million record buyers disagreed.

She sold 10 million copies of the country-infused “Tennessee Waltz” alone. That song, recorded by Mercury Records at the start of the 1950s, was expected to be a throwaway number and was relegated to the B-side of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.”


Known as the “Singing Rage,” Ms. Page, 85, became one of the most successful female pop singers. (AP/AP)

In the end, only Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” outsold Ms. Page’s lament of stolen love.

“I was dancin’ with my darlin’ to the Tennessee Waltz,” she sang, “when an old friend I happened to see/ I introduced her to my loved one/ And while they were dancin’/ My friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

“I have no idea why it took off,” Ms. Page once told the New York Times. “There’s a simplicity about it. Someone introduces their boyfriend to someone else, and now he’s no longer her boyfriend. It’s just a sad love song.”

Besides “Tennessee Waltz” — which became an official song of its titular state — Ms. Page’s hits included “Old Cape Cod,” “All My Love,” “I Went to Your Wedding,” “Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte” and “Allegheny Moon.”

Ms. Page was said to have been the first pop vocalist to use overdubbing, a technology still new in the late 1940s that allowed Ms. Page to be her own backup singer. She first used the technique in her single “Confess,” which featured jazz guitarist George Barnes.

A musicians’ strike was about to begin, she once recalled in an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News. “I couldn’t get anyone to sing backup vocals,” she said. “So we bounced the recording from one acetate disc cutting machine to another, with me adding on the harmonies.”

She later single-handedly performed the four-part harmony in “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming.” The label advertised “Vocals by Patti Page, Patti Page, Patti Page and Patti Page.”

In addition to her music career, Ms. Page was a mainstay of variety shows and had TV programs on all three of the major networks, most notably “The Patti Page Show.” On the movie screen, she appeared as an evangelical choir singer opposite Burt Lancaster in “Elmer Gantry” (1960), had a starring role with David Janssen in “Dondi” (1961) and had a supporting role in the comedy “Boys’ Night Out” (1962) with Kim Novak and James Garner.

Clara Ann Fowler was born Nov. 8, 1927, in Claremore, Okla., and grew up in Tulsa. She was one of 11 children and was raised during the Great Depression by a father who worked for the railroad.

She told the Times that her family often did not have enough money to buy shoes. To save on electricity bills, the Fowlers listened to only a few select radio programs. Among them was “Grand Ole Opry.”

As a young woman, she found work at an Oklahoma radio station and successfully auditioned for a program called “The Meet Patti Page Show,” sponsored by the company Page Milk. When band leader Jack Rael heard her on the program and recruited her for a touring career, she took her character’s fictional name with her.

Even as they aged, her songs remained deeply popular among the listeners who had first loved them. As recently as a decade ago, Ms. Page sang dozens of concerts annually. She received her first Grammy Award for her 1998 album, “Live at Carnegie Hall,” and was scheduled to be honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in February.

Her marriage to choreographer Charles O’Curran ended in divorce. Her husband Jerry Filiciotto, an engineer, died in 2009 after 19 years of marriage.

For a time, she and Filiciotto lived in California and in New Hampshire, where they had a pancake-mix-and-syrup business.

Survivors include two children from her marriage to O’Curran, Danny O’Curran of Solana Beach, Calif., and Kathleen Ginn of Tucson; a sister; 14 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Ms. Page understood that her music could seem dated and that it was sometimes overlooked by reviewers because it was unsophisticated.

“My music was called plastic, antiseptic, placid,” she once told the Times. “It was only five or so years after the war, a different time. . . . That’s what people wanted.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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