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Lamar A.
Republican TN

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  • Tribute to Patti Page

    by Senator Lamar Alexander

    Posted on 2013-01-23

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    ALEXANDER. Mr. President, Patti Page died on New Year's Day this year. She was 85 years old. The Senate has not been in session for most of the time since then. I wanted to come to the floor to pay a Tennessean's tribute to Patti Page. Patti Page is best known for our State song, the ``Tennessee Waltz.'' A few years ago, in 2007, when I met her for the first time, she told me the story of the ``Tennessee Waltz.'' I knew some of it, but she completed the rest of it.

    In 1946, a couple of Tennesseans, Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart, were driving from Memphis to Nashville. That was before the interstate highways. It took a pretty good amount of time to drive that distance. I don't know whether or not they were drinking a beer on the way from Memphis to Nashville but they were relaxed, and one of them said to the other, Why is it Kentucky and Missouri have a waltz and Tennessee doesn't have a waltz? So on the way from Memphis to Nashville they took out a penny matchbox, which is one of these big boxes with wooden matches in it, dumped out the matches on the floorboards of the car, and on the back of the penny matchbox, between Memphis and Nashville, in 1946, Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart wrote the ``Tennessee Waltz.'' They sang it around a few places. Pee Wee King sang it at the Grand Ole Opry. Nobody paid much attention to it. Cowboy Copas sang it. They sang it on Red Foley's show in Missouri. Nothing much happened to the ``Tennessee Waltz'' until 1950, and this is the story Patti Page told me. Mercury Records in New York had a new song they were sure was going to be a big hit. It was called ``Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.'' I don't know whether it was a follow up to ``Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,'' but the executives in New York were sure it was going to be a big hit so they wanted the hottest young female singer in America to record ``Boogie Woogie Santa Claus'' so they hired Patti Page. She flew to New York, recorded it for Mercury Records, and then in those days you always had to put a record on the back of the main record. You had to pick a song. It would be the ``B'' side. Just as a throw-away they put on the back of it the song by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart, the ``Tennessee Waltz.'' We know the rest of the story. The ``Tennessee Waltz'' sold about a million copies. Nobody ever heard of the ``Boogie Woogie Santa Claus'' except those who bought the ``Tennessee Waltz.'' Mike Curb, who runs Kerr Records in Nashville, told me it was the best selling record ever by a female artist. Patti Page eventually sold 100 million records. She was the top selling female artist in record sales in history.

    =========================== NOTE =========================== On page S203, January 23, 2013, the Record reads: Mike Kerr, who runs Kerr Records in . . .

    The online Record has been corrected to read: Mike Curb, who owns Curb Records in . . .

    Growing up I heard her songs, ``Mockingbird Hill,'' ``I Went To Your Wedding,'' ``Old Cape Cod.'' In 1952 she had a song called ``Doggie in the Window.'' It sounds like a silly little song, but it sold a lot of records and a great many Americans remember it. When I was Governor of Tennessee I would travel to Japan, recruiting industry. In the evenings I would go to a restaurant bar with friends, and to my astonishment all of my Japanese friends, many of whom did not know much English, could sing every word of the ``Tennessee Waltz.'' When I inquired about it, it was because it was introduced during the time of the American occupation of Japan in 1950 or so, and according to them, the Asian music doesn't have the same kind of standard that American music has. We get a phrase or a theme in our minds and we never forget it, such as the ``Tennessee Waltz.'' So the ``Tennessee Waltz'' became a song that most Japanese men of that age knew, remembered, and could sing from memory.

    I met Patti Page for the first time 6 years ago. It was 2007. She was about 79 or 80 years of age at the time. She told me the story of the recording of the [[Page S204]] ``Tennessee Waltz'' for Mercury Records. It turned out it was her last recording session. Mike Kerr, the owner of Kerr Records, had invited her to come to Nashville and record an album, ``Best of Patti Page.'' He had invited me to come play the piano while she sang the ``Tennessee Waltz,'' which I did. It was a real thrill and she was very patient to put up with an amateur piano player for her very special song. She told me then it wasn't the first time she had performed with a Tennessee Governor. In 1950 she had performed with Tennessee Governor Gordon Browning at a Memphis theater. This was when she was all the rage, the ``Tennessee Waltz'' was all the rage, and the Governor wanted to sing it with her.

    I asked how it went. She said, ``Well, to tell you the truth, the Governor wasn't a very good singer.'' I don't know what she said to others about my piano playing, but I think that was probably about as harsh a verdict as Patti Page ever rendered of any other person.

    According to the New York Times obituary, Patti Page once said: But I don't think I've stepped on anyone along the way. If I have, I didn't mean to.

    Well, Patti Page is gone now, but her music is not. Whenever we Tennesseans hear our State song, the ``Tennessee Waltz,'' played, or whenever we sing it, we will remember the voice of Patti Page.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that following my remarks that the obituary about Patti Page from the New York Times be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From the New York Times--Obituary] Patti Page, Honey-Voiced '50s Pop Sensation, Dies at 85 (By Anita Gates) Patti Page, the apple-cheeked, honey-voiced alto whose sentimental, soothing, sometimes silly hits like ``Tennessee Waltz,'' ``Old Cape Cod'' and ``How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?'' made her one of the most successful pop singers of the 1950s, died on Tuesday in Encinitas, Calif. She was 85.

    Her death was confirmed by Seacrest Village Retirement Communities, where she lived.

    Ms. Page had briefly been a singer with Benny Goodman when she emerged at the end of the big band era, just after World War II, into a cultural atmosphere in which pop music was not expected to be challenging. Critics assailed her style as plastic, placid, bland and antiseptic, but those opinions were not shared by millions of record buyers. As Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times in 1997, ``For her fans, beauty and comfort were one and the same.'' ``Doggie in the Window,'' a perky 1952 novelty number written by Bob Merrill and Ingrid Reuterskiold, featured repeated barking sounds and could claim no more sophisticated a lyric than ``I must take a trip to California.'' It is often cited as an example of what was wrong with pop music in the early '50s, a perceived weakness that opened the door for rock 'n' roll. But if that is true, and if the silky voice of ``the singing rage, Miss Patti Page,'' as she was introduced during her heyday, was mechanical or sterile, she had significant achievements nonetheless.

    ``Tennessee Waltz,'' from 1950, sold 10 million copies and is largely considered the first true crossover hit; it spent months on the pop, country and rhythm-and-blues charts.

    Ms. Page was believed to be the first singer to overdub herself, long before technology made that method common. Mitch Miller, a producer for Mercury Records, had her do it first on ``Confess,'' in 1948, when there were no backup singers because of a strike.

    The height of her career predated the Grammy Awards, which were created in 1959, but she finally won her first and only Grammy in 1999 for ``Live at Carnegie Hall,'' a recording of a 1997 concert celebrating her 50th anniversary as a performer. Her career was also the basis of recent, short- lived Off Broadway musical, ``Flipside: The Patti Page Story.'' In the early days of television Ms. Page was the host of several short-lived network series, including ``Scott Music Hall'' (1952), a 15-minute NBC show that followed the evening news two nights a week, and ``The Big Record,'' which ran one season, 1957-58, on CBS. ``The Patti Page Show'' was an NBC summer fill-in series in 1956.

    Ms. Page defended her demure, unpretentious style as appropriate for its time. ``It was right after the war,'' she told The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., in 2002, ``and people were waiting to just settle down and take a deep breath and relax.'' She was born Clara Ann Fowler on Nov. 8, 1927, in Claremore, Okla., a small town near Tulsa that was also the birthplace of Will Rogers. She was one of 11 children of a railroad laborer.

    Having shown talent as an artist, Clara took a job in the art department of the Tulsa radio station KTUL, but an executive there had heard her sing and soon asked her to take over a short country-music show called ``Meet Patti Page'' (Time magazine called it ``a hillbilly affair''), sponsored by Page Milk. She adopted the fictional character's name and kept it.

    The newly named Ms. Page broke away from her radio career to tour with Jimmy Joy's band and was shortly signed by Mercury Records. She had her first hit record, ``With My Eyes Wide Open, I'm Dreaming,'' in 1950. Other notable recordings were ``Cross Over the Bridge,'' ``Mockin' Bird Hill,'' ``Allegheny Moon'' and her last hit, ``Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte,'' which she recorded as the theme for the Bette Davis movie of the same name. That song was nominated for an Oscar, and Ms. Page sang it on the 1965 Academy Awards telecast.

    Ms. Page briefly pursued a movie career in her early '30s, playing an evangelical singer alongside Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons in ``Elmer Gantry'' (1960), David Janssen's love interest in the comic-strip-inspired ``Dondi'' (1961) and a suburban wife in the comedy ``Boys' Night Out'' (1962), with Kim Novak and James Garner. She had one of her earliest acting roles in 1957 on an episode of ``The United States Steel Hour.'' In later decades her star faded, but she continued to sing professionally throughout her 70s. Early in the 21st century she was performing in about 40 to 50 concerts a year. In 2002 and 2003 she released an album of children's songs, a new ``best of'' collection and a Christmas album.

    Ms. Page married Charles O'Curran, a Hollywood choreographer, in 1956. They divorced in 1972. In 1990 she married Jerry Filiciotto, a retired aerospace engineer, with whom she founded a New Hampshire company marketing maple syrup products. He died in 2009. Survivors include her son, Danny O'Curran; her daughter, Kathleen Ginn; and a number of grandchildren.

    Ms. Page's nice-girl image endured. In 1988, when she was 60, she told The Times: ``I'm sure there are a lot of things I should have done differently. But I don't think I've stepped on anyone along the way. If I have, I didn't mean to.'' Mr. ALEXANDER. I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Delaware.

    (The remarks of Mr. Coons pertaining to the introduction of S. 85 are printed in today's Record under ``Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions.'') Mr. COONS. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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