Patti Page - Biography



By Jonny Whiteside

 

          Patti Page- the petite, blonde charmer widely known as the Singing Rage, was a unique figure in 1950's pop music. While best known for sweet, fizzy numbers like "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?,"  and "Mockin' Bird Hill," the Oklahoma-born singer could move effortlessly from straight Hit Parade fodder to pure country music, and deliver either genre with emotional conviction, impressive facility and an impeccable sense of style. It was also Page--not the widely and erroneously credited Les Paul and Mary Ford--who first used double tracked vocals on her records, creating a rich, warm harmony sound that became an standard, industry-wide practice after she introduced it on the 1948 Mercury single "Confess" (the label actually billed it as "Patti Page with Patti Page").

 

            Page scored a staggering run of hits throughout the 1950's, many of them "territory songs" whose lyrical hook centered around a specific locale, and over her career has sold tens of millions of records. But her formidable skill as vocalist allowed Page to take on an almost kaleidoscopic range of subjects, in the process imbuing them with more soul and atmosphere than listeners expected from the high-gloss bevy of pop sisters who represented mid-century America's pop Golden Age (indeed, her sizzling version of the Cole Porter classic "Love for Sale" was banned from the airwaves). Page, whose smiling face and unassuming, down-to-earth persona regularly beamed into millions of households via her weekly CBS television variety program, The Patti Page Show, was also one of the nation's primary heartthrobs; as late fifties teen idol Tommy Sands put it, "I had a terrible crush on Patti Page--but so did everybody else."

 

            Born Clara Ann Fowler on November 8, 1927 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, she grew up--with her ten siblings--in Tulsa, and got her first experience as a singer in church. She was soon singing local dates in a trio with her sisters but, as she grew, Page revealed more interest in a career as an artist than a vocalist (and was proficient enough that she was awarded an art scholarship while in high school). Music kept pulling at her, though, and after finishing high school, she accepted a gig, billed as Ann Fowler, with Al Klauser & His Oklahomans, which led to work singing on several daily programs broadcast by Tulsa's KTUL. Sponsored by the Page milk company, she became Patti Page, and also started singing at KVOO, with Leon MacAulliffe, the legendary steel guitar innovator of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys.

 

            After Chicago saxophonist Jack Rael (Benny Goodman's cousin) caught one of her broadcasts in 1947, he signed on as her manager, and landed her a contract with Mercury that resulted in the double-tracked hit "Confess." This was pre-reel to reel tape; she recorded one vocal on an acetate disc, then sang harmony to the playback.  Any mistake meant starting all over again--the easily degraded acetates could only be used once.  When Les Paul and Mary Ford double-tracked several years later, it was on tape--a far easier undertaking.

 

            She churned out hits that appeared on both pop and country charts over the next few years (her first pop number one came with 1950's "All My Love"), but in 1951, Page's signature recording "Tennessee Waltz" really put her on the map. It spent 13 weeks at number one on the pop chart, and set a new standard for success in Nashville, grossing an unprecedented $330,000 for publishers Acuff-Rose in less than a year (another Acuff-Rose client, Hank Williams, grossed $200,000 a year at his peak--but that figure included earnings from personal appearances).

 

            Page was on a roll, cutting hit after hit, "Down the Trail of Broken Hearts," "How Much is That Doggie in the Window," "Allegheny Moon," Old Cape Cod," "A Poor Man's Roses (or a Rich Man's Gold," "Let Me Go Lover,"all sumptuous exercises in pop expression that made her a household name and resulted in her 1955-1958 run hosting The Patti Page Show, and concurrently, 1957-58's The Big Record. She also gave a convincing performance in the controversial (yet Oscar winning) Burt Lancaster 1960 big-screen blockbuster Elmer Gantry, playing a shy gospel singer whom the Lancaster character shamelessly manipulated to further his ambiguously nefarious end. From Manhattan to Las Vegas, Page was a top showroom draw, and she managed it all with her singular combination of natural, down-home country appeal and a sophisticated, almost jazzy interpretive prowess.

 

            After the rise of rock & roll sidetracked most of her pop warbling colleagues, Page simply began concentrating on the country market, and throughout the early sixties racked up a respectable string of hits, with her 1961 cover of Lefty Frizzell's "Mom and Dad's Waltz" and 1962's  "Go on Home," which made the Top 15. She still managed a few pop successes as well, notably her 1965 version of the eerie "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" (although she did not perform it in the Bette Davis chiller of the same name, her record made the Top Ten). Chart activity slowed, but country fans never forgot Page: the Los Angeles-based Academy of Country Music presented her with their Pioneer Award in 1979, and in 1983, Page, with Roy Acuff, co-hosted the opening special that launched country music cable channel TNN.

 

            In 1997--her fiftieth anniversary in the business--came the release of the lavish four-CD retrospective, Patti Page: A Golden Celebration (Mercury), a comprehensive collection which made a strong case for Page's rediscovery. Page still maintained an active career, working frequently in Reno and Atlantic City, with occasional club dates in Hollywood and Palm Springs, and her pipes, at that point, were still in gorgeous condition. For one with such an impressive roster of hits and accomplishments, Page remained an intensely shy, almost withdrawn character, who always felt that "I owed the audience more than I was giving them." It's safe to say that very few of them would agree with her on that point.

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