Keely Smith (born Dorothy Jacqueline Keely, 9 March 1928, in Norfolk, Virginia, of part Cherokee and Irish descent) is an American jazz and popular music singer who enjoyed great popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Her collaborations with Louis Prima and Frank Sinatra were highly rated. Smith was much admired for her singing style, and for her duets with Louis Prima. In recent years, Smith resumed her career to critical acclaim.
Smith showed a natural aptitude for singing at a very young age. At 14, Smith started singing with a naval air station band led by Saxie Dowell. At 15, she got her first paying job with the Earl Bennett band.
Smith was only 15 when she first saw Prima perform in New York City. The following summer, Prima played her hometown of Norfolk, VA, at the same time he was looking for a new female singer. Smith won the job on a more or less spur-of-the-moment audition, and recorded her first duets with Prima in 1949. Eventually they became romantically involved as well, marrying in 1953, and recording throughout the '50s, though they had their greatest success as one of Las Vegas' most successful stage acts.
Smith played the "straight guy" in the duo to Prima's wild antics and they recorded many duets. These include Johnny Mercer's and Harold Arlen's "That Ol' Black Magic", which was a Top 20 hit in the US in 1958. In 1959, Smith and Prima were awarded the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus for "That Ol' Black Magic." Her "dead-pan" act, similar to Virginia O'Brien, was a solid hit with fans. The duo followed up with the minor successes "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," a revival of the 1937 Andrews Sisters hit.
Smith and Prima's act was a mainstay of the Las Vegas lounge scene for much of the 1950s. Smith appeared with Prima in the 1959 film Hey Boy! Hey Girl!, singing "Fever", and also appeared in and sang on the soundtrack of the previous year's Thunder Road. Her song in Thunder Road was "Whippoorwill," remembered as one of her best. Her first big solo hit was "I Wish You Love."
When the singers were signed to Capitol, Prima stipulated that Smith get her own recording deal. Her subsequent Capitol albums were accomplished readings of popular standards, sometimes swinging mildly, although Smith seemed more comfortable with ballads. She and Prima left Capitol for Dot at the end of the '50s, and in 1961 she divorced him on grounds of extreme mental cruelty. She signed with Reprise Records, where her musical director was Nelson Riddle. In 1965, she had Top 20 hits in the UK with an album of Beatles compositions and a version of "You're Breaking My Heart."
After marrying producer Jimmy Bowen, Smith retired from music to concentrate on raising her children.
She made a comeback album in 1985 on Fantasy with I'm in Love Again on the Verve label, which featured accompaniment from top West Coast jazzmen Bud Shank and Bill Perkins. Her albums Swing, Swing, Swing (2002), Keely sings Sinatra (2001 - for which she was Grammy nominated), and Keely Swings Count Basie Style with Strings (2002) have garnered much critical and fan acclaim. Most recently, Smith released Vegas '58 -- Today a compilation album of her best known songs, all recorded live. Smith has re-recorded a number of songs from her Prima years, including a modified version of "Oh Marie," which has been renamed "Oh Louis" in tribute. By her own admission, she has never had a singing lesson and cannot read music.
Smith was booked at the prestigious Cafe Carlyle in New York City for the entire month of April, 2007. Now in her 80s, she works a light touring schedule, but continues to wow fans with her strong voice and natural stage presence. (Info edited from Wikipedia & AMG)
Keely Smith sings "When Day is Done" on the Frank Sinatra show 1958.