Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jazz Vocalist - Keely Smith

These are my two favorite Keely Smith Songs
"Birth of the Blues" and
"Autumn Leaves"

Most well known as the straight duet partner of Louis Prima in the 1950s

As a solo jazz vocalist Keely sang mostly pop oriented material. Her greatest solo achievements were on albums for Capitol in the late 1950s backed by Nelson Riddle and Billy May

Beginning her career as the female singer in Louis Prima’s band, and later becoming famous as one half of their hugely successful Las Vegas lounge act, Keely Smith's early achievements were tied to someone or something else.

Now in her 70s, she has found the renewed interest and acknowledgment of her own talent to be immensely gratifying. "I’m thrilled that the resurgence is of my career by myself because for many years everything I did was with Louis, and now all of a sudden I’m being recognized on my own and that really is the ultimate for me," she recounted to the Los Angeles Times.

Throughout the 1950s, Louis Prima and Keely Smith were the undisputed King & Queen of Las Vegas and have been credited with essentially inventing the modern lounge act. Performing five shows a night at the Sahara’s Casbar Lounge, they became a huge draw for both the average blue-collar tourists as well as some of the biggest celebrities at that time. On any given night, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Howard Hughes, and the young Senator John F. Kennedy could be found in the audience. Many of the show business elite would add to the audience’s enjoyment of the show by affably heckling the duo and sometimes even getting up on stage to join the act.

During this period, Capitol Records issued a series of chart-topping albums that consisted of abridged versions of Louis Prima and Keely Smith’s beloved nightclub act. In addition, Keely released I Wish You Love, a solo debut that confirmed her own star power by receiving a GRAMMY nomination and selling over a million copies. Keely’s appeal and renown is just as strong today, having survived several decades, various musical trends and the fickle nature of the entertainment industry. Actor Robert DeNiro and director Martin Scorcese have been long-time fans of Keely’s and over the years have placed her music in numerous films, including “The Deerhunter,” “Raging Bull,” “Analyze This,” “That Old Feeling,” “Big Night” and “Mad Dog and Glory.”

The revival of the swing movement in the late ‘90s inspired The Gap retail chain to use Louis Prima’s signature tune, "Jump, Jive and Wail" in one of its popular ad campaigns. This renewed interest in swing and big band music also led to an invitation for Keely to perform at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, where she sang to a jam-packed crowd of admirers, both young and old. Most recently, Keely has performed to SRO audiences across the country, including a five-night stop in Atlantic City and a stint at Feinstein’s at the Regency in New York City. Talks are currently underway to book Keely into Caesar’s in Las Vegas, bringing her back full circle to where it all began.

Keely Smith is currently writing her autobiography, which has been a work in progress for several years. "I started it about four years ago and then put it aside," she explains. "When I read it, I wasn’t sure if I liked what I had written, but now I’ve started on it again. I want to do it with complete honesty, or not at all." And there are certainly plenty of lifetime experiences to chronicle: winning one of the first-ever Grammy Awards in 1959, performing at President Kennedy’s inauguration, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and friendships with everyone from The Rat Pack to Elvis Presley.

"I have been very blessed in my life," says Keely Smith reflecting back. And as she looks towards the future, there are even more accolades to receive and sold-out shows still to come. In October of 2000 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, The Cherokee Honor Society will bestow Keely with its prestigious Cherokee Medal of Honor. "It’s the highest recognition that can be bestowed to a woman in the Cherokee nation," she states proudly. The Medal of Honor is given out annually to recipients whose achievements bring pride and honor to the Cherokee nation and community.

The incomparable Tony Bennett has gone on record naming Keely Smith "one of the greatest jazz-pop singers of all time." What better candidate then to honor Count Basie, one of the greatest bandleaders of all time. Further expanding her audience and repertoire, Keely Smith once again pays tribute to an important figure in her life with class, respect, and above all, an immense display of pure talent. Merv Griffin says it best—“Keely is awesome!”


FlickChick said...

I was so happy to see something about Keely Smith pop up on my blog list today. Louis Prima & Keely Smith were pure joy. I do so hope she gets that bio done, as their story has got to be a good read!

Jan said...

The very first time I heard Keely Smith she was singing Autumn Leaves. I fell in love with that voice. Then I heard her and Louis Prima do Hey Boy, Hey Girl and I was hooked. I am glad there are others out there who enjoy her singing as much as I do.