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This Page Continues : Legendary Singer Still on Key and Still on the Road

Over the years, hundreds of hit-parade heavies, from the Beatles to Elton John, have undergone the same rite of passage.

The day they first headlined the prestigious Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was the day they were officially recognized by their peers--and by the public--as having “made it.”

When Patti Page made her Hollywood Bowl debut last month, nearly a quarter of a century had elapsed since her last Top 10 hit, “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” And the crowd’s enthusiastic response to the 60-year-old pop singer’s Aug. 12 and 13 appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was tempered by reverence.

After all, they weren’t witnessing the baptism of a superstar, but the confirmation of a legend.

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In a career that spans almost 40 years, Page--a Rancho Santa Fe resident since 1973--has sold more than 60 million records. Between 1949 and 1965, she had 13 gold singles, including “Doggie in the Window,” “Old Cape Cod” and “Tennessee Waltz.” The latter still stands as one of the biggest-selling pop 45s ever, second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

“It was really beautiful, one of the true high points of my career,” Page said of her Hollywood Bowl engagement. “From the way everyone reacted, it was as though they thought I was gone, as though they couldn’t believe I’m still around after all these years.

“Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. If people don’t see you on television or hear you on the radio, they take it for granted that you’ve given up. So naturally, they were surprised to find out I’m still kicking.”

Still kicking, indeed. While the hits might have stopped coming more than 20 years ago, Page has never stopped touring. She continues to spend an average of 26 weeks a year on the road, performing primarily on cruise ships and in casino showrooms in Nevada and Atlantic City, N.J.

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On Oct. 15, she begins a weeklong stint aboard the SS Norway; after that, it’s on to the newly opened Riverside gambling resort in Laughlin, Nev.

Accompanying her will be conductor Rocky Cole, who, before hooking up with Page in 1954, had been a singer with the Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Alvino Ray orchestras. Keeping the beat, as he’s done for 23 years, will be drummer Kenny Hume.

“Touring is really my saving grace,” Page said. “I’ve never grown tired of singing the old songs, except maybe for ‘Doggie in the Window,’ which never was one of my favorites.

“But the others, I love them as much today as I did when I first recorded them. And, when I see how people in the audience react to a certain song, that makes it even more worthwhile.”

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Page, who was born in Claremore, Okla., as Clara Ann Fowler, was the second-youngest of 11 children--three boys and eight girls. Before she hit her teens, she had formed a trio with two of her sisters and was singing at family functions and in church.

In 1942, the Fowler family moved to Tulsa, and young Clara Ann soon found an after-school job with the art department of Tulsa radio station KTUL-AM. A few months later, the star of KTUL’s daily “Meet Patti Page” program, a country music show sponsored by the local Page Milk Co., decided she would rather sing in nightclubs than on radio.

And, at the age of 14, Clara Ann Fowler was asked to become Tulsa’s next Patti Page.

Four years later, in 1946, Page joined a traveling big band. The milk company allowed her to keep her stage name, and, for six weeks, the Jimmy Joy Band featuring Patti Page worked its way north to Chicago.

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When it came time to leave the Windy City, however, Page and Jack Rael, the band’s manager, decided to stay behind. For more than a year, Page sang solo in various nightclubs and theaters while Rael pounded the pavement, trying to find her a record deal.

In the summer of 1947, Page was signed to the just-launched Mercury Records label and recorded a series of unsuccessful singles. Then, in 1948, a song called “Confess” proved the turning point. The tune required two-part vocal harmonies, but Mercury didn’t have enough money to hire a second singer. So Rael suggested that Page’s voice be overdubbed in a revolutionary new recording process pioneered a short time earlier by Les Paul and Mary Ford.

As soon as the song was released, disc jockeys throughout the country were intrigued by the label, which read, “Vocals by Patti Page and Patti Page.” Largely because of that novelty aspect, “Confess” became a moderate hit--and when it came time for Page to record a follow-up, Rael persuaded Mercury Records to take the overdubbing process one step further and apply it to a four-part harmony song.

The result was “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” which became Page’s first million-seller. Shortly after the single went gold in late 1949, Page headlined the prestigious Copacabana nightclub in New York--and from that point on, her popularity mushroomed.

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Page’s next song, “Tennessee Waltz,” was an even bigger hit than “Dreaming.” And, for more than a decade, Page maintained a steady presence on the national Top 40, even after the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll. She also was host to four television series, including “The Big Record” on CBS and “The Patti Page Show” on ABC, and she appeared with Burt Lancaster in the 1960 movie “Elmer Gantry.”

“It really bothers me that today, people think that when rock ‘n’ roll came around, it was all over for ballad singers like myself, Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett,” Page said.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. In 1956, the same week that something by Elvis Presley was No. 1, ‘Allegheny Moon’ was No. 2. And, even in 1965, when all anyone talked about was the Beatles, I still managed to make the Top 10 with ‘Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.’ ”

By the late 1960s, however, Page’s fortunes on the pop charts had finally waned, and she turned to country, scoring big on those charts with such tunes as 1970’s “Going Home.” Meanwhile, she continued to tour, selling out concerts as easily as she had during her halcyon days.

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Last year, a TV mail-order house released a two-record “greatest hits” package of Patti Page classics; a few months ago, Page recorded a new single, “Fred,” for Plantation Records.

“Sure, I’d love to have another hit--wouldn’t everybody?” she said. “But I realize that the record business is so very different now, and it won’t be easy.

“If I get another hit, fine. But, if I don’t, I won’t be too disappointed. What really matters is that people still want to hear my old songs, and that they keep coming out to my concerts.”


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