Singer Patti Page's supremely polished, soothing voice was a source of comfort and enjoyment to millions of record buyers in the pre-rock-n-roll era with such pop singles as "Tennessee Waltz," "I Went to Your Wedding," "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" and "Old Cape Cod, which topped the charts between 1951 and 1956. Though critics and highbrow music buyers dismissed Page's material as the epitome of the soulless, occasionally inane pop fluff that not only made it possible but virtually required the rise of rock-n-roll, she was among the most popular female singers of the period, enjoying a longer run on the charts than many of her more famous predecessors like The Andrews Sisters or Rosemary Clooney and even peers like Jo Stafford. Page also benefited greatly from her talent with country-pop hybrids like "Tennessee Waltz," which allowed her to continue to enjoy chart hits on the country charts after her pop career faded in the mid-1960s. Though rarely afforded critical respect or the appreciation of the music industry - she would not win a Grammy until 1998 - Page's lovely and tasteful voice gave pleasure to millions of listeners at the height of her career and in the decades that followed.
Born Clara Ann Fowler on Nov. 8, 1927 in Claremore, OK, she was one of 11 children by railroad laborer B.A. Fowler and his wife, Margaret. Her early years were marked by dire poverty in a house with no electricity, but Page found an outlet and escape in art. Her talent was enough to earn her a job in the art department at KTUL, a radio station in Tulsa, shortly after graduating from high school. Her fortunes changed after an executive heard her sing and asked her to perform on a 15-minute program sponsored by the Page Milk Company, which also provided her with a stage name. In 1946, Page was tapped by saxophonist Jack Rael to sing with a band he managed called the Jimmy Joy Band. She toured the country with the act before it settled in Chicago in 1947; there, she sang with a small vocal group associated with bandleader Benny Goodman. The connection helped to her land a contract with Mercury Records, which released her first single, "Confess," that same year. A Top 20 hit, the single also featured Page overdubbing her own backing vocals - a decision borne more of out necessity than artistic choice due to a singer's strike, which made backing vocalists unavailable. She would employ the same technique with even greater success on 1950's "With Eyes Wide Open, I'm Dreaming," which became her first million-selling single. Her first visit to the top of the pop charts came that same year with "All My Love (Bolero)."
"Confess" was soon followed by four more singles, including the Top 20 hit "So in Love" (1949). Page also made her debut on the country charts that same year with the single "Money, Marbles and Chalk," and would enjoy a long and successful association with the genre throughout her pop career. Her second million-selling single, 1950's "Tennessee Waltz," was originally a hit for the Western swing outfit Pee Wee King and His Golden West Cowboys, as well as Cowboy Copas. Page's version was unquestionably the most successful recording, spending 13 weeks at No. 1 between 1950 and 1951, while also enjoying No. 2 status on the country charts. "Tennessee Waltz" would go on to become one the best-selling singles of all time, with over 15 million copies sold in the five decades since its release. Between 1951 and 1952, Page would enjoy a slew of additional Top 10 hits, including "Would I Love You (Love You, Love You)," a cover of Les Paul and Mary Ford's "Mockin' Bird Hill" and "I Went to Your Wedding," which became her third No. 1 single in 1952.
The following year, Page released "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?," a track for a children's album penned by novelty tune specialist Bob Merrill. To her surprise, the song became her fourth No. 1 hit, spending over five months on the charts. It would eventually become her signature song along with "Tennessee Waltz," and help to cement Page's status among music critics as a safe, staid and altogether harmless recording artist. Her standing among pop fans, however, remained unimpeachable, as evidenced by a string of Top Five hits that lasted until the late '50s, including "Cross Over the Bridge," "Allegheny Moon" and "Old Cape Cod." It was this success on the charts that proved to be one of the reasons Page outlasted many of her fellow female pop singers from the period, including Jo Stafford and Rosemary Clooney.
Page also branched into television during this period, headlining her own series, "The Patti Page Show" (syndicated) in 1955, which was followed by two other equally short-lived variety shows in 1957 and 1959. She briefly explored acting as well, most notably as an evangelist opposite Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones in "Elmer Gantry" (1960). But music remained her most successful showcase, and she would enjoy not only chart hits but also artistic acclaim in the midpoint of the decade after teaming with musical director Vic Schoen. Together, they would record a new version of Gordon Jenkins' tone poem Manhattan Tower which reached the Top 20, the highest standing of any of Page's LP releases. It would largely serve as the coda for the singer's exceptional run on the pop charts, which went into decline by the early 1960s. Her final major hit came in 1965 with the theme to the Bette Davis suspense-thriller "Hush. Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1965), which reached the Top 10 while also netting an Oscar nomination for Best Song.
Page moved to Columbia Records in the mid-1960s, where she enjoyed a number of hits on the Adult Contemporary chart, including covers of "Gentle on My Mind" and "Little Green Apples," which also marked her final appearance on the pop chart. Her skill and affinity for pop-flavored country inspired her to pursue the genre in earnest during the early 1970s, and she recorded several Top 20 and Top 30 country hits throughout the decade, including "I Wish I Had a Mommy Like You" (1970) and "Hello, We're Lonely," a 1973 duet with Tom T. Hall that reached No. 14. This new vein ran dry in the middle of the decade, and Page would spend much of the late 1970s on hiatus until returning to recording for Plantation Records in 1980. She would land one final chart entry, "My Man Friday," in 1982, before settling into a career as a live act in Las Vegas, New York and various points across the country. In 1998, she recorded her first concert album, Live at Carnegie Hall: The 50th Anniversary Concert, which earned her first and only Grammy Award.
The late-inning success led to a new studio album, Brand New Tennessee Waltz (2000), which featured her still-elegant vocals in harmony with newer country singers like Alison Krauss and Trisha Yearwood. Page remained busy in subsequent years, performing up to 50 live dates a year while also hosting a radio program on the popular "Music of Your Life" network. Among her occasional guests was rocker Jack White, who had covered her early single "Conquest" with his former band, the White Stripes, in 2007. She also managed a maple syrup business in New Hampshire with her third husband, Jerry Filiciotto, prior to his death in 2009. On Jan. 1, 2013, Page passed away at the age of 85 at her home in Encinitas, CA.
By Paul Gaita