Patti Page, 'Tennessee Waltz' singer, dies at 85

Patti Page, the Oklahoma-born pop singer whose gossamer-gentle voice was heard on 1950s hits such as “The Tennessee Waltz” and “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?,” died New Year’s Day in Encinitas, Calif., where she’d lived for several decades. She was 85.

No cause of death has been announced, but her manager said she had been suffering from heart and lung disease recently. In September, Page posted a message on her official website explaining her cutback in personal appearances, telling fans that she was facing “several medical challenges. Throughout my life I never really gave much thought to my senior years. I was always able to hop on a plane, go out on stage and make music with the band. At this point I am no longer able to do that.”

Page helped bring country music to a broader audience in the late 1940s and early 1950s with smooth, elegantly produced recordings epitomized by “The Tennessee Waltz,” the achingly emotional tale of a woman who loses her sweetheart to an old friend at a dance: “I introduced her to my loved one, and while they were dancing, my friend stole my sweetheart from me."

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The song spent 13 weeks at No. 1 in 1950, and became one of the biggest selling hits of all time while selling more than 6 million copies, according to Joel Whitburn’s “Pop Memories 1890-1954.” Nearly 100 recordings by Page landed on the Billboard singles chart from 1948 through 1970, which included “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?,” “Old Cape Cod,” “Allegheny Moon” and, in her final Top 10 hit, the title song from the 1965 film “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.”

Page reached beyond rural Southern audiences with songs that betrayed no trace of her native Oklahoma twang and replaced guitars, fiddles and other traditional country instruments with sweeping orchestral accompaniment. Her recordings offered a soothing counterpoint to the revolutionary new sound of rock 'n’ roll.

Although her elegant voice and easy-listening arrangements often recalled the golden age of big band singers of the 1930s and 1940s, she also embraced new technology that allowed her to multitrack her own voice, and she often sang her own harmonic backing vocals.

Page was so popular that she landed TV shows of her own on each of the three major broadcast networks in the 1950s. She was such a prominent presence in the 1950s that her name was included in the Beach Boys' nostalgic 1971 song “Disney Girls.” A jukebox musical based on her life, “Flipside: The Patti Page Story,” played the Roxy Theatre in New York last month and also has been been staged in theaters in Oklahoma and Florida.

In 1997, she performed at Carnegie Hall in New York for the first time, and the resulting live album, “Patti Page Live at Carnegie Hall -- the 50th Anniversary Concert,” earned Page her first Grammy Award. She was also  recently announced as a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, which she was scheduled to receive at a ceremony in February.

Fellow Oklahoma native Vince Gill recorded with Page several years ago, an experience he cited in a statement he issued Tuesday. "I'll always remember the duet Patti and I did of 'Tennessee Waltz' when I was performing in Southern California," Gill wrote. "It reminded me of when I was a little boy and my mom taught me to waltz to that song. I'll never forget the sound of her voice."

Born Clara Ann Fowler on Nov. 8, 1927, in Claremore, Okla., Page once said music provided her with her own form of therapy.

“What I like about singing is that, for me, it's a substitute for the psychiatrist's couch,” she said. “I can tell it all in song: pathos, gladness, love, joy, unhappiness. Each song, you're telling a story and acting.”

Page is survived  by her son, Daniel O'Curran; daughter Kathleen Ginn; a sister, Peggy Layton; 14 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren, according to her longtime personal manager, Michael Glynn. No services have been scheduled.

A full obituary will appear in Thursday's print edition of The Times.


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