Patti Page, pop-country crossover sensation, passes away at 85

Patti Page, pop-country crossover sensation, passes away at 85

Country crossovers didn't begin with Taylor Swift; the genre's embraced its pop side for almost as long as folks have been laying bow to fiddle. And for that reason, today we eulogize Patti Page, the pop/country/R&B singer and onetime Benny Goodman band singer who passed away Tuesday.

Your grandparents probably liked Patti Page for good reason; she folded a bit of country into her pop and as such, many of her singles made an appearance on the Billboard Country Chart. Page was one of the few vocalists to make it on the Country Chart in five separate decades; between 1949 and 1981, she placed 11 singles in the Top 40, though "Tennessee Waltz" was her only Top 10 Country Hit. To recognize her achievements in the genre, the Academy of Country Music presented her in 1978 with the Pioneer Award.

Though she was known for songs like "Mockin' Bird Hill," "I Went to Your Wedding," and "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" (say it with me: Arf! Arf!), Page is best known for her cover of "Tennessee Waltz," a country song originally recorded by Pee Wee King & His Golden West Cowboys (and soon after a hit for Cowboy Copas). It's a sweet song made all the sweeter by her divinely unadorned vocals. It became her second single to make it to the Country Chart, reaching Number Two and becoming her biggest hit there. It would later become one of the best-selling records of all time, to date selling fifteen million copies. And placing it in a time when folks still sang around pianos in their parlors, it's also the last song to have sold a million copies of sheet music.

Born Clara Ann Fowler on November 8, 1927, Page was one of eleven children born to a railroad laborer and his wife in Claremore, Oklahoma, a small town outside Tulsa that also claims Will Rogers as one of its own. Clara got her start locally after taking a job in the art department of Tulsa station KTUL, where an executive heard her sing and asked her to take over a country music show called "Meet Patti Page," sponsored by Page Milk. The fictional name stuck.

All told, Page released over 100 albums, 160 singles, had 84 Top 40 Hits, won a Grammy and sold over 100 million records, making her one of the biggest selling female recording artists in history. In 1997, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and this year, she'll be posthumously honored with the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

Page hosted her own television series and also enjoyed a short-lived career as an actress. Though she would never match her 1950s-era recording success, she continued performing and releasing albums into her 80s. Most recently, The White Stripes covered her 1952 song "Conquest" on their Grammy-winning 2007 album Icky Thump.

Page died Tuesday in Encinitas, California at the age of 85, after suffering congestive heart failure.

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