Sunday, December 17, 2017

RIP Keely Smith

Keely Smith has passed away. She was 89. Wonderful singer with great comic timing. No wonder I loved her.

She really came to fame in the 1950's when she sang for Louis Prima's band.  They primarily were a Vegas lounge act.  He was frenetic and zany and she was absolutely deadpan.  The numbers they sang together were almost novelty songs.  She finally left that nonsense and established herself as a highly-respected solo singer.  

She had a distinctive quirk.  Instead of singing "I" it always came out "Awww."  Don't ask me why but it worked. 

I saw her perform on several occasions.  The latest was maybe fifteen years ago at the House of Blues in LA.  Got the chance to meet and talk to her after the show.  I'm rarely star struck but this was KEELY SMITH.   She was very funny in person.  The lady could deliver a heart wrenching song and punchline.  

She certainly was of a different era but the beauty of her voice and phrasing is timeless.  RIP Keely Smith.  "I wish you love." 

Here's a small sample of her work. 

18 comments :

Jeff Maxwell said...

She was soooo good. They were soooo good. The old black magic just lost a little.

Talor Hackford wrote, produced and directed a play about Keely and Louie a couple of years ago. Wonder who's gonna do the movie?

Joseph Laredo said...

I had the privilege of writing liner notes for a Keely Smith CD released as part of the "Capitol Spotlight Series", and a sweeter or more gracious lady you couldn't hope to find. After our chat, when I told her she would hopefully have copies of the finished product to sell at her shows in a few months, she shyly demurred. This genteel Southern belle (also part Native American) loved meeting her fans, but felt self-conscious and awkward sitting at a table selling them things.
She spoke fondly of her days with Louis Prima, although being married to him in addition to working together did come with challenges. Interestingly, Prima's ex-wives (there were a few) generally got along well together. Keely had a wonderful story about having lunch with another of his ex-spouses in a Vegas coffee shop. Unbeknownst to them there was also a third member of this club in the room, and went a "Call for Mrs. Prima" page was announced all three ladies responded!God rest her soul.

Mike Schryver said...

Sonny and Cher didn't really take off until they started doing Louis Prima and Keely Smith's act. Cher owes her career to Smith.

Pat Reeder said...

Thank you for posting this, Ken. Keely Smith was criminally underrated and should have been as big a household name as Tony Bennett. Laura and I were looking at the computer and saw her obituary at the same moment. Laura was crushed. Ella and Keely were her two biggest singing idols. She always dreamed of being able to meet Keely, but figured it would never happen, so I know she'd be envious of you.

Keely Smith never got the appreciation that her talent deserved, partly because Louis Prima badmouthed her to club owners after they divorced and partly because of changing musical trends. She deserved to record more and have only the best arrangers and production, instead of having to go through that awful period when great standards and jazz singers were forced to make twist albums. I think we have everything she ever recorded (including her twist album -- she's such a pro, there are even a few tracks on that she makes listenable.) Laura loved her so much, there are a couple of obscure songs on her own albums that she learned from Keely. On her latest, "New Vintage," one song that's gotten attention ("Nothing Can Replace A Man" from the 1955 Broadway flop "Ankles Aweigh") we discovered on a recording of Keely live in Vegas. Prima introduced it as her next record, but I could never find any evidence of it being released. So even her unreleased material is great. I hope this post will encourage people who don't know her to seek her music out. Screw "The Voice" and "American Idol": that's what real vocal talent sounds like.

Julian Brown said...

thanks for this Ken. Much appreciated.

Max Clarke said...

Very good. Reminds me a little of Gogi Grant and Joni James.


DetroitGuy said...

Thanks to you Ken, my Sunday will now be spent journeying down the rabbit hole of Keely Smith videos on YouTube. What a great talent I wish I had known about earlier in my 54 years.

Sheila said...

I just discovered her recently on the old Ed Sullivan shows being shown on the Decades network. There are a lot of corny animal acts and acrobats/jugglers, but every so often, there are gems to discover like Keely Smith. Gorgeous voice.

Mike Barer said...

I remember several years ago, my Dad showed me Keely Smith's picture at Sherman's Deli in Palm Springs. He was surprised that I hadn't heard of her.

Anonymous said...

Sonny and Cher were a direct descendant of Louis and Keely.
The difference was Louis and Keely were more talented than Sonny and Cher.
And Sam Butera and the Witnesses were an added dimension

Fred Vogel said...

I had the pleasure of knowing Keely for many years. She was kindhearted and generous. I wish her daughters, Toni and Luanne, all the best. She will be missed.

Andy Rose said...

Every time I think of Keely Smith, I can't help but think of one of the first appearances of Kermit the Frog.

https://youtu.be/2A_xuV3Dcik?t=48s

Mike Bloodworth said...

You best me to it. I was going to say that I just saw them on E.S. either Thur. or Fri.

Justin Piatt said...

I was just about to mention this. She holds a special place in Muppet history.

Craig Gustafson said...

Jokes Kids Never Got:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz71pov1odc

Beany and Cecil - at 3:05, there is a parody of "Squeely Smith." Only a veteran of Warner Brothers like Bob Clampett would lampoon a Vegas lounge singer on a Saturday morning cartoon show, and include quirks such as wiping her nose and scratching her ass while singing.

I NEVER got this reference until I was an adult who loved Keely Smith.

Roger Owen Green said...

The word I has two sounds - the ah, then the eee. The former is appealing, the latter less so. Keely concentrated on the former, which more pleasing to the ear.

BTW, my least favorite recorded Christmas song is O Little Town of Bethlehem by some country artist who sings the city Beth-lee-hem, rather than Beth-leh-hem

Anonymous said...

So glad I was privileged to see/hear Keely Smith and Prima in Vegas in the late 60s. Great show.

cadavra said...

For the record, the "Louis and Keely" stage show was written by the remarkable Vanessa Stewart, who also played Keely. Taylor came in after the initial run and restaged it, adding and cutting some bits along the way, but he can't really be called the "writer." She later reworked it again as more of a concert performance. I've seen all versions and she absolutely nails Keely in a way few could; the real Keely was appropriately impressed and they remained good friends.