Dorothy Jacqueline Keely (March 9, 1928[1][note 1][2] – December 16, 2017), professionally known as Keely Smith, was an American jazz and popular music singer, who performed and recorded extensively in the 1950s with then-husband Louis Prima, and throughout the 1960s as a solo artist.[3]

Keely Smith
Smith in 1960
Smith in 1960
Background information
Birth nameDorothy Jacqueline Keely
Born(1928-03-09)March 9, 1928
Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
DiedDecember 16, 2017(2017-12-16) (aged 89)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)Singer
Years active1939-2017
LabelsCapitol, Dot, Reprise
Spouse(s)
Matteo Gambardella Jr.
(m. 1947; div. 1950)
(m. 1953; div. 1961)
; 2 children
(m. 1965; div. 1969)
Bobby Milano
(m. 1975; died 2006)

Smith married Prima in 1953. The couple were stars throughout the entertainment business, including stage, television, motion pictures, hit records, and cabaret acts. They won a Grammy in 1959, its inaugural year, for their smash hit, "That Old Black Magic", which remained on the charts for 18 weeks.[4]

Early years edit

Smith was born in Norfolk, Virginia; her ancestry was Irish and Cherokee.[5] Jesse Smith, her stepfather, was a carpenter, and her mother took in laundry to earn money to buy gowns for Smith to wear when she performed.[6]

Career edit

When Smith was 11 years old, she sang regularly as a cast member of The Joe Brown Radio Gang program on a Norfolk station.[6] At age 14, Smith sang with a naval air station band led by Saxie Dowell. At 15, she got her first paying job with the Earl Bennett band. She saw Louis Prima perform in New York City in 1949.[note 2][2] They recorded together in 1949 and married on July 13, 1953.[2][7]

Their songs included Johnny Mercer's and Harold Arlen's "That Old Black Magic", which was a Top 20 hit in the US in 1958. At the 1st Annual Grammy Awards in 1959, Smith and Prima won the first Grammy for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus for "That Old Black Magic".[8] Her deadpan act was popular with fans. The duo followed up with the minor successes "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen", a cover 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.[1] Though her actual voice was not used, she was caricatured as "Squealy Smith" in Bob Clampett's 1960 Beany and Cecil episode "So What and the Seven Whatnots", a Snow White spoof in a Vegas setting.[9]

Smith appeared with Prima in the movie Hey Boy! Hey Girl!,[1] singing "Fever", and also appeared in and sang on the soundtrack of the previous year's film Thunder Road. Her song in Thunder Road was "Whippoorwill". She also appeared in the film Senior Prom.[1]

Her first big solo hit was "I Wish You Love" in 1957, and it brought her a Grammy award nomination for Best Vocal Performance, Female.[8] Her debut album by that same title achieved gold status[2] In 1961, Smith divorced Prima. She then signed with Reprise Records, where her musical director was Nelson Riddle.[1]

In 1965, she had Top 20 hits in the United Kingdom with an album of Beatles compositions, Keely Smith Sings The John Lennon—Paul McCartney Songbook, and a single, "You're Breaking My Heart", which reached No. 14 in April.[10]

She returned to singing in 1985, recording the album I'm in Love Again with Bud Shank, Bill Perkins and Bob Cooper.[7] Her albums, Swing, Swing, Swing (2000), Keely Sings Sinatra (2001) for which she received a Grammy nomination, and Keely Swings Basie-Style With Strings (2002) won critical and popular acclaim.[7] In 2008, she performed a duet with Kid Rock during the 50th Grammy Awards on "That Old Black Magic".[4]

Smith earned positive reviews for her performances at Feinstein's nightclub in Manhattan in 2005. Said Variety: "Smith's bold, dark voice took firm hold on a handful of great standard tunes, and she swung hard", and The New Yorker review called her "both legendary and underrated ... She can still sing the stuffing out of a ballad as well as swing any tune into the stratosphere."[citation needed]

According to a news release from her publicist issued upon her death, Smith was "very resolute in being in control of the trajectory of her career".

"Nobody will ever interfere with what I do on stage", Smith once told Theatermania. "Someone might have an opinion of something but, if I disagree with it, I'll go with my own thinking. I'm just a plain person. I sing like I talk — and, when I'm on stage, I talk just like I'm talking to you."

Smith's final performance was on February 13, 2011, at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center in Southern California.[4]

Personal life edit

Smith first married Matteo Gambardella Jr. on September 6, 1947 in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, before divorcing him in December 1950.[11] Smith married Louis Prima July 13, 1953.[2] in Virginia Beach.[12] They had two children, Toni Elizabeth and Luanne Francis.[2] Smith had affairs with Sam Giancana and Frank Sinatra[13][14] prior to her divorce from Prima in 1961. She also had a relationship with Clint Eastwood.[15] She married Jimmy Bowen in 1965. The couple divorced in 1969.[16] In 1975, Smith married singer Bobby Milano (real name Charles Caci) in Palm Springs. Sinatra gave the bride away. Milano died in 2006. [17]

On December 16, 2017, Smith died of apparent heart failure in Palm Springs, California, at the age of 89.[4] She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.[18]

Legacy edit

In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her.[19] She also has a star at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard in the Recording section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was dedicated on September 22, 1998.[20]

Discography edit

Solo albums edit


With Louis Prima

  • 1958 Breaking It Up! (Columbia)
  • 1959 Louis and Keely! (Dot)
  • 1959 Louis Prima & Keely Smith on Broadway (Coronet)
  • 1960 Louis Prima Digs Keely Smith (Coronet)
  • 1960 Together (Dot)
  • 1961 Return of the Wildest! (Dot)


With Louis Prima, Sam Butera & The Witnesses

  • 1957 The Call of the Wildest (Capitol)
  • 1957 The Wildest Show at Tahoe (Capitol)
  • 1958 Las Vegas Prima Style (Capitol)
  • 1959 Hey Boy! Hey Girl! (Capitol)
  • 1960 On Stage (Dot)

Notes edit

  1. ^ The reference work The Encyclopedia of Native Music: More Than a Century of Recordings from Wax Cylinder to the Internet gives Smith's date of birth as March 9, 1932.
  2. ^ The Encyclopedia of Native Music: More Than a Century of Recordings from Wax Cylinder to the Internet says, "In 1948, entertainer Louis Prima appeared in her hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, and hired Smith at an audition."

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e Lentz, Harris M. III (2018). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2017. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-3318-3. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wright-McLeod, Brian (2018). The Encyclopedia of Native Music: More Than a Century of Recordings from Wax Cylinder to the Internet. University of Arizona Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-8165-3864-5. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  3. ^ Clavin, Tom (December 17, 2017). That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1-56976-813-6. Retrieved December 18, 2017 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ a b c d Harrington, Jim (December 17, 2017). "Iconic vocalist Keely Smith dies from apparent heart failure at 89". The Mercury News. San Jose, California.
  5. ^ I Wish You Love album liner notes (1958)
  6. ^ a b Boulard, Garry (2002). Louis Prima. University of Illinois Press. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-0-252-07090-7. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Unterberger, Richie. "Keely Smith | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "("Keely Smith" search results)". Grammy Awards. Recording Academy. Archived from the original on June 26, 2018. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  9. ^ Beany and Cecil - So What and the Seven Whatnots on YouTube
  10. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London, UK: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 509. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  11. ^ North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C.
  12. ^ Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia, Marriages, 1936-2014; Roll: 101167092
  13. ^ "Keely Smith, Fine and Frank". totaltheater.com.
  14. ^ "Legendary singer and Sinatra crony Keely Smith dies in Palm Springs".
  15. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (2015). Clint: The Life and Legend (updated and revised). New York: OR Books. ISBN 978-1-939293-96-1. p.119
  16. ^ "Keely Smith Granted Default Divorce". The Palm Beach Post. July 30, 1969.
  17. ^ "Keely Smith". Herald Journal. January 25, 1975.
  18. ^ "Legendary Jazz Singer Keely Smith Dies At 89". cbslocal.com. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  19. ^ "The Brightest Stars from New-York to Los Angeles" (PDF). Palm Springs Walk of Stars. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 13, 2012.
  20. ^ "Keely Smith". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on June 27, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2018.

External links edit