Singing icon Patti Page, the “countrypolitan” voice of the 1950s died Wednesday in California. She was 85.
“She’s the greatest female singer in American music history,” Michael J. Glynn, Page’s manager of more than 16 years, said in a phone call to the Tulsa World.
Page was the first country-pop crossover megastar. “She’s had more hits on Billboard for more time than anyone else. She recorded over 1,000 singles — everyone has a memory tied to a Patti Page song,” Glynn said.
Page was born Clara Ann Fowler on Nov. 8, 1927, in Claremore.
Though one of her top-selling singles may be her honey-hued “Tennessee Waltz,” a generation discovered her as the singer of the Bob Merrill and Ingrid Reuterskiöld-written tune “(How Much is That) Doggie in the Window,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart in 1953.
Her hits included “All My Love (Bolero),” “I Went to Your Wedding,” “Old Cape Cod,” “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “Allegheny Moon” and others.
“Patti has always been an unabashed ambassador for our state, for Tulsa and Claremore,” said Wayne McCombs, executive director of JM Davis Arms and Historical Museum in Claremore and longtime Claremore history buff. Page became the inaugural face at the museum’s “Claremore Wall of Fame” in 2010.
“Everywhere she went and every show she did, she always claimed Claremore as her home. She sold more albums than Rosemary Clooney or Connie Francis — more than any other woman of her era,” McCombs said.
A fan since he first heard “(How Much is That) Doggie in the Window” as a kid, he said Page was one of the most down-to-earth celebrities he’s ever met. “I had six of her albums with me when we met,” he said. “I thought for sure she’d look at me funny after the second one, but she signed all six. What you see is what you get with her. She was always kind and always made time for her fans.”
Likewise, “I grew up in Claremore and always wanted to meet Patti,” said Tayna Andrews, executive director of the Claremore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. So she invited Page to play her first official hometown gig in 2010. Page’s only prior performance in Claremore was when a street was named after her in 1969, though she visited many times through the years.
Page never expected fame. At least, not her unrivaled level of it, she told the Tulsa World in 2010. She earned her first airplay on a modest 15-minute Tulsa radio program sponsored by Page Milk Company, from which she took her stage name.
Her earliest performance memories, though, were of nights spent on her front porch swing after supper, singing with her 10 brothers and sisters. Her favorite song back then was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” she told the Tulsa World. She was raised in poverty in a home often without electricity, she said, her mother a cotton picker and father a railway worker.
“I was going along with my manager (Jack Rael) who told me what to do at all times,” Page said. “I was very grateful he was there. I didn’t realize that he didn’t know as much as I did even, but we were both young, starting out, and so I put all my trust in him.
“I was very fortunate that it turned out.” They worked together for 52 years.
Indeed, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO Jason McIntosh calls her the top-selling female artist in Oklahoma history. “Can you imagine? She sold 100 million albums. There are about 100 million households in America right now,” McIntosh said. “It’s just unfathomable to have that kind of success — no other female artist from this state even comes close.”
Oklahoma music expert John Wooley also credits the singer as the earliest to cross boundaries of pop and country with her version of “Tennessee Waltz.” In 1950 it held Billboard’s No. 1 tune for 16 weeks and sold more than 10 million copies. She also was one of the first — if not the first — musician to overdub her own voice on a recording, “Confess,” in 1948, long before modern technology made it commonplace, Wooley said.
Page recorded more than 100 albums, and 84 singles cracked Billboard’s Top 40 chart. She also was the only musician to have a music show on all three networks — back when there were only three networks.
Oklahoman Greg White collaborated with Page for the musical “Flipside: The Patti Page Story” about her life. It opened in New York City last weekend.
“She is 1950s, post World-War II America,” he said in a phone call after her death. “She’s got a sound like nobody else. She was the look and sound of the early ’50s, pre rock ‘n’ roll.”
In an era when image was carefully constructed, Page proved genuine.
“She was a super fine lady, inside and out,” Rene Paquette, the president of Page’s official fan club The Patti Page Appreciation Society, said in an email to the Tulsa World.
“The Singing Rage, Miss Patti Page,” as she was commonly called, was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2002, she was awarded the Living Legend Award from the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Later this year, she also will be honored with the Grammy Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Glynn said Page will likely be buried in California, but no arrangements have been confirmed Wednesday.
Her cause of death was not given, said Andrews.
Page is survived by her son Daniel O’Curran, daughter Kathleen Ginn and sister Peggy Layton, Hageman said.