Not unlike Taylor Swift, Patti Page transcended genres and was the biggest female artist of her day, in fact, the best-selling female pop artist of the 1950s.
In fact, a good chunk of the 100 million records sold in Page’s career came from her classic 1950 traditional pop single “Tennessee Waltz,” which made it to the top of the pop, country and R&B charts. Forty-eight years later, the artist known as “The Singin’ Rage, Miss Patti Page” won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.
Page, who died Jan. 1 at 85, also pioneered the vocal multi-tracking recording process. She will be posthumously honored on Feb. 9 with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
"I'll always remember the duet Patti and I did of 'Tennessee Waltz' when I was performing in Southern California,” said Vince Gill, upon learning of her death. “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."
Among Page’s other major hits in a career extending seven decades were the novelty classic "(How Much Is That) Doggie In The Window," "I Went To Your Wedding,” and “Old Cape Cod,” a No. 3 hit from 1957 that was returned to the fore in 1998 when London electronic dance duo Groove Armada made her sampled vocal (embellished by synthesizer bass and trombone) the centerpiece of their U.K. hit “At The River.”
Music archivist Gregg Geller, who compiles the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction CDs, feels that recognition of Page’s achievements may have faded over her great career span.
“I don’t think she ever got quite the credit she deserved for crossing country music over into the pop mainstream,” says Geller. “Of course there was Bing Crosby before her and Tony Bennett just after--and Ray Charles well after that! But maybe it’s hard today to appreciate just how huge ‘Tennessee Waltz’ was when it was a hit: It certainly made a huge impression on the three-year old me at the time.”
“And I loved ‘Old Cape Cod’ when it was released several years later--and still do!” continues Geller, whose background also includes music trade journalism and record company A&R executive positions. “I interviewed her and saw her perform at the Persian Room in New York in the early 1970s—a gracious lady, still sounding great. She made some strong, straight Nashville singles for us at Epic Records later in the ‘70s. I can’t help but think that the success of ‘(How Much Is That) Doggie In The Window’ has gotten in the way of people taking her seriously as a vocal artist of the first rank.”
John Alexander, who also worked as a music journalist before producing scores of music compilations for Reader's Digest, fondly recalls Page as “one of the nicest people” and likewise observes that “she never lost her voice.”
“I could put ‘Tennessee Waltz’ in anything—country, pop. Everbody loves ‘Tennessee Waltz’!” says Alexander. “It transcended everything—and so did she: ‘Old Cape Cod,’ ‘Allegheny Moon.’ ‘I Went To Your Wedding’ is one of my favorite songs ever, and ‘Whispering Winds’ is one of the most underrated songs of all time.”
Page, who established a side business producing her own line of organic New Hampshire maple syrup and buttermilk pancake mix, was grateful for Reader’s Digest’s endless use of her songs.
“Out of the blue she sent me her talking maple syrup!” says Alexander. “It plays ‘Tennessee Waltz’ when you open the lid!”
Legendary rock vocalist Tracy Nelson likewise loved “Tennessee Waltz,” and was thrilled to meet Page at the official pre-Grammy Awards nominees party when she was nominated with Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas for the 1998 album Sing It!
“She was so charming and lovely–and so short!” says Nelson. “It was the coolest thing of the whole Grammy experience, and I saw her performing on TV not long after and she was still singing really great.”
Nelson dug into Page’s vast catalog and now looks to record her “I Cried” when she puts together a future jazz album. There’s certainly a lot to choose from, as Page’s output totaled 111 chart hits from 50 albums, and including 19 gold and 14 platinum singles.
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