The legendary Patti Page has died.
Granted, by most standards she was more pop than country; however, her biggest hit was indisputably country. "Tennessee Waltz" was written by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart and first recorded by numerous country acts (including Cowboy Copas, who reportedly couldn't buy the rights to the song from King and Stewart because he didn't have $50 to pay them when they offered it). It is Page's version, not King's or Copas's, that most people identify with the song that has since become one of the state songs of Tennessee.
Clara Ann Fowler isn't what anyone would call a household name, but that was Patti's birth name on November 8, 1927 when she was born in Claremore, Oklahoma. She first tasted fame on the radio in Tulsa, where she had a 15-minute program sponsored by Page Milk. The milk company's name gave the 18-year-old her legendary professional name. A band leader coming through town heard her broadcast and immediately set out to make her a star.
That proved no problem, given Page's superb voice. She was signed to Mercury Records and put in the hands of legendary producer and sing-along king Mitch Miller, who made Page the first recording act in history to use overdubbing on her first hit, "Confess." More hits followed in the late 40s, but they were all dwarfed by a chance recording of a song that had already been a country hit three times in 1948 (for Copas, King, and Roy Acuff). Mercury wanted Page to have a Christmas record out in late 1950, so she cut "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus." The problem was, she had nothing to put on the B-side of the record. The label was all in favor of having a non-Christmas song as the B-side because they felt it would ensure that the DJs would plug the holiday song and wouldn't (as they were accustomed to doing in those days) "flip the record over" and play both sides. Boy, were they ever wrong about that.
The conservative estimates are that Page's recording of "Tennessee Waltz" sold over ten million records. Not bad for a B-side.
Other successes followed, including her hit "(How Much is That) Doggie in the Window" (which sold over three million copies and was so successful that its parody, "How Much is That Hound Dog in the Window" by Homer & Jethro, became country music's first million-selling comedy recording). All told, she had twenty songs hit the country chart (including a duet with Tom T. Hall, "Hello, We're Lonely"). If that seems impressive, her pop chart tally (the "Hot 100," which didn't begin until the rock and roll era in 1955) netted her 43 charted songs, including the 1956 million-selling "Allegheny Moon" (which had to fight for attention thanks to that Presley fellow turning the music world upside down). Additionally, she was the first performer to host TV shows on all three networks.
Although she faded from the charts Page continued to be a draw in Las Vegas and in Branson, Missouri. She was equally at home with, and appreciated by, pop and country fans.
In December it was announced that Page will receive a Lifetime Achievement Grammy next month at the Grammy Awards. Sadly, it will now be presented posthumously.
How much was that doggie in the window? Thanks to Patti Page's incomparable voice, it was priceless. The Singing Rage, Miss Patti Page was 85.