She wasn’t called “The Singing Rage” for nothing. And 57 years after the “raging” began in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a little known radio show on which she was the featured singer, Patti Page remains an icon, a beloved singer who changed the face of pop music and the way it was recorded. Her accomplishments in music and television remain unparalleled even today.
In the course of her remarkable recording career, Patti Page has sold approximately 100 million plus records, making her one of the biggest, if not the biggest selling female recording artist in history. She has 15 certified gold records and her recording of “Tennessee Waltz,” at ten million sold, remains, the biggest selling single ever recorded by a female artist. She has charted a staggering 111 hits on pop, country and r&b charts (“Tennessee Waltz” was # 1 concurrently on all three charts), a feat no other artist in recording history can claim! And, she is the unrecognized (till now) pioneer in the field of overdubbing, of multiple voice techniques – a ground breaking, innovative endeavor that began with her first Top Twenty hit, “Confess,” in 1948. Additionally, it was Patti Page who took country music out of the country and onto the pop charts with such million record sellers as “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “ I Went To Your Wedding,” and, of course, the legendary “Tennessee Waltz” to become the first artist to crossover musical genres. And she is the only singer – male or female – to have had shows bearing her name on all three major television networks.
Like so many other Cinderella stories, Patti’s origins were indeed humble. Her father was a section hand on the Midland Valley Railroad and his earnings often provided little more than the bare essentials. Patti, second from the youngest of eleven children, was often without shoes and playing in the fields while her mother and sisters picked cotton in Claremore, Oklahoma, where she was born Clara Ann Fowler in November, 1927. From earliest recollections, music was an integral part of her life. The Fowler Sisters sang in church and later on local radio. At age 5, Patti was a self-acknowledged “little ham.” But by her adolescence, a shyness developed that was to remain throughout her life despite a very public career that found her not only performing for millions, but for royalty and five U.S. Presidents.
Clara Ann Fowler, intent as a teenager on a career as an artist, obtained work after school in the art department at KTUL Radio in Tulsa. But when an executive at the Tulsa radio station heard her sing at a high school function, and the girl who was currently Patti Page on the “Meet Patti Page Show”, sponsored by the Page Milk Company, left to seek a career outside of Oklahoma, he suggested that Clara Ann Fowler become the Patti Page of local radio. The art world’s loss shortly became the music world’s gain. The “fairy godmother” that soon appeared in Patti’s Cinderella story was actually a touring band manager named Jack Rael, who upon flipping stations in his Tulsa hotel room, heard the Page voice and was instantly struck by its musicality. Phoning the station, he arranged a meeting with the reluctant Clara Ann, but soon persuaded her to leave her $125 per week job to take $75 as the featured vocalist with the touring bandleader/clarinetist Jimmy Joy, and his band. Soon thereafter, both Patti (she took the Patti Page name and made it legally hers when she left Tulsa) and Rael left the band and struck out on their own with Rael as Patti’s manager, a partnership that was to last almost 50 years. Rael was quick to place Patti on the hugely popular Don McNeil’s “Breakfast Club” out of Chicago. With her voice now heard nationally, Rael engineered a four-sided recording demo with the fledging Mercury Records whose only celebrated artists at the time were Vic Damone and Frankie Laine. It could be argued that Mercury’s “gamble” resulted in the label becoming a major player in the recording industry. Throughout the 50s, Mercury was the house that Patti Page built as both Laine and Damone left the company for Columbia Records and Patti became the reigning queen of pop music.
Her first success changed the recording industry forever and proved that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. The necessity was for backup singers on a song titled, “Confess.” They were to serve as an echo to Patti’s vocal. The problem however, was that Patti and Rael couldn’t afford to hire backup singers. The solution was found when the studio engineer used a revolutionary overdubbing technique that permitted Patti to be her own chorus and echo. Although modern historians have erroneously credited guitarist, Les Paul, with this innovation, it is now widely acknowledged that it began with Patti and “Confess.” Recorded on New Year’s Eve in 1947, “Confess” climbed to #12 on the charts in 1948, establishing Patti as a recording artist. Her success continued with “I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine” and her first million record seller, “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” the billing for which read: The Patti Page quartet: Patti Page, Patti Page, Patti Page and…Patti Page.
As the 50s dawned, they became not only the “Golden Days of Television,” as that decade is referred to, but the golden days of “The Rage” as Patti produced another million seller, “All My Love.” But its success was nothing in comparison to the phenomenon of “Tennessee Waltz.” Not only did Patti’s recording remain in the top ten for 26 weeks, and at number one for 13 of those weeks, but it went on to become the largest selling record by a female artist in recording history. Later, it became one of the state of Tennessee’s official state songs. The irony here is that “Tennessee Waltz” was the B-side of its initial Mercury release. The company was betting on its flip side, a Christmas novelty, “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, “ which disappeared within weeks of its release.
The success of ‘Tennessee Waltz” catapulted Patti into major stardom. She followed up her mega-hit with two other #1 million record sellers, “Mockingbird Hill” and “Would I Love You, Love You, Love You.” By 1952, Patti Page was on her way to becoming the decade’s best selling female singer, and its most popular. A repeated winner of Billboard and Cashbox Magazine awards as America’s favorite female vocalist, in 1957, Patti was crowned American Bandstand’s favorite female vocalist in its first nationwide audience poll.
The Southern silk of Patti’s voice, combined with her telegenic high cheek-boned beauty, made her an integral part of the golden age of television. Her appearances were many, and she was a frequent guest star on the Milton Berle, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore, Jackie Gleason and Bob Hope shows. She also starred frequently on the prestigious Bell Telephone Hour, the Colgate Comedy Hour and the Steve Allen Show. A musical “Special” on ABC found her costarring with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, most notable for the trio singing “I’ve Got Tears In My Ears Crying Over You.”
Patti’s popularity was such that she was signed by NBC Television to star in “Scott Music Hall Presents Patti Page,” a summer replacement series that gave birth to the twice-weekly syndicated “Oldsmobile Presents…Patti Page.” The success of that modest enterprise, and the dominance of Patti on the hit lists with such other multi-million record sellers as “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window,” “Cross Over the Bridge,” “I Went To Your Wedding, “ “Changing Partners” and “Allegheny Moon,” brought Patti to CBS-TV and the big budgeted weekly extravaganza, “The Big Record.” When that concluded its run, ABC-TV brought Patti to its studios for “The Patti Page Show,” thus making her the only performer to have shows bearing her name on all three major television networks.
Perhaps nothing told the tale of Patti’s popularity as her major TV appearances; first as a mystery guest (normally confined to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra) on the legendary game show, “What’s My Line,” and she appeared on the highly celebrated “Person to Person,” on which only the celebrated (royalty and presidents) appeared in the comfort and surroundings of their own home. Interviewed by legendary newsman, Edward R. Murrow in her Park Avenue apartment, Patti dabbled at the piano as she struck a few chords and sang a few bars of her new record, “My First Formal Gown.” Although her appearances scored a huge Neilson rating, the record bombed. But, multi-million sales of “Old Cape Cod,” quickly reestablished Patti’s prominence on the hit lists. In the same decade, she added another facet to her career when she starred in her first dramatic offering on CBS’ “Playhouse 90.” She also added author to her resume when she wrote the autobiographical “Once Upon a Dream, “ which her teenage audience made into a best seller.
In 1956, Patti married Hollywood choreographer, Charlie O’Curran. The couple established residence in Beverly Hills where they adopted two children, Kathleen and Danny. They remained within the Hollywood community until they divorced in the early 1970s. Then, Patti, never comfortable living within a show business environment, moved her family to Rancho Sante Fe, a rural community near San Diego. As a single working mother whose family depended on her income, Patti could not be a stay-at-home mom. Suffering the angst many women in her position know and have known, she continued her lucrative nightclub and concert careers, here and often abroad, particularly in Asia where she had a huge Japanese following. Leaving her home of many years at Mercury for Columbia Records, she scored yet another top ten hit with the title song from “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.” Her appearance at the Academy Awards that year singing the Oscar nominated song was not Patti’s first foray into the film community. As an actress, she had already appeared in “Elmer Gantry,” “Boys Night Out” and “Dondi.”
But it was in nightclubs that Patti continued to make her mark and her living. She was a major star performing in all THE major venues throughout the country. In New York, she played the Copacabana, the prestigious Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria and the elegant Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel. In Los Angeles, the marquee at the Cocoanut Grove frequently read her name, as did the marquee at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, and the Drake in Chicago. She opened new doors in the 90s when she entered the era of cabaret, appearing at the Ballroom (home to Peggy Lee among others), Rainbow and Stars (gal pal Rosemary Clooney’s home away form home) and the elegant Michael Feinstein’s at the Regency – all in New York. These small intimate settings were perfect for Page’s personality – warm, inviting and like the clubs themselves…intimate.
In recent years, Patti has both starred and served as host of several PBS music specials. On her 50th anniversary in the entertainment industry, PBS honored Patti with a 90-minute retrospective on her life and career. The celebration mirrored the one that took place at Carnegie Hall on May 31, 1997 where Patti appeared for the first time in her distinguished career, singing both her hits of the past and songs of the present. In the audience that night was Jerry Filiciotto, the man she married in 1990, their children and grandchildren; two of whom, Sarah, 10, and Page, 8, live with Patti and Jerry in their California and New Hampshire residences. Captured on CD, “Patti Page Live At Carnegie Hall – the 50th Anniversary Concert” earned Patti her first Grammy Award.
One of the first to be awarded her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Patti’s name is also on the Country Music Walk of Fame in Nashville. She has received the prestigious Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music, and is a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Patti was the first female to be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame along with Merle Haggard and Woody Guthrie and in 2002, she was honored with the Living Legend Award from the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Retirement is not yet a word in Patti’s vocabulary. She continues to record and has released three albums on her own label, C.A.F. Records. In 2000, she teamed up with Grammy-winning songwriter/producer Jon Vezner for “Brand New Tennessee Waltz.” The project included such admirers and major talents as Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss and Suzy Boguss. In 2002, she returned to the studio with Vezner to record Child Of Mine and Sweet Sounds Of Christmas. The latter, Patti’s first holiday album since 1966, was released in November 2002 and later re-released by DRG Records through an exclusive licensing deal with national distribution by Koch Entertainment. In 2003, Patti released Child Of Mine, a collection of children’s favorites, including a new rendition of her multi-million seller, “(How Much Is) That Doggie In the Window” as well as other classics including, “Over the Rainbow” and “Rainbow Connection.” Mercury Records also celebrated Patti’s career with the release of The Best of Patti Page: The Millennium Collection. All of these projects are available for purchase on her website at www.pattipageproducts.com.
In addition to performing concerts throughout the country, she and her husband maintain a thriving business in New Hampshire producing maple syrup and pancake mixes packaged under the name of Patti Page Pure Maple Products. The Food Network recently featured the products in a special episode of “Celebrity Food Finds.” She has also recently been featured in The New York Times, Biography Magazine, Guidepost Magazine, Senior Living Magazine and Mature Living Magazine.
Patti Page is still one of today’s most treasured artists. By any standard hers has been an extraordinary life; one the barefoot, Clara Ann Fowler of Claremore, Oklahoma, could never have anticipated or conceived – but which the Singing Rage, Miss Patti Page has so brilliantly and yet so modestly achieved.