Keely Smith's name will be always linked with Louis Prima's. However, she persued a career in singing while with Prima which is gaining a following of its own. Extremely beautiful, she also posesses an exquisite singing style most effective in ballads.
Dorothy Jaqueline Keely was born on March 9,1932 in Norfolk, VA. She showed a natural aptitude to singing at a very young age, and got professional singing experience with Saxie Dowell and Earl Bennett. Her idols in singing were Ella Fitzgerald and June Christy.
Smith ran into Prima first in New York City at the Steel Pier. They were very impressed by what they heard and immediately recommended the band to their friends. Apparently Prima spotted her-but it was not until later (1948) that he was looking for a new girl singer for the band. She was recommended by her brother, and she got surprise audition! She was at the beach in her bathing suit and had to borrow a skirt and blouse to audition! Prima signed her up right away.
They first recorded in 1949 for various labels. They also fell in love, and were married on July 13th, 1953. This was her first marriage, his fourth. Soon, they were drawn to Las Vegas where they were offered a job at the Sahara Hotel doing a late night show from 12 midnight to 6 am. They were joined by Prima's friend Sam Butera, a tenor sax player. Soon their act (with "The Witnesses") became the talk of Las Vegas, with visits by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin,and Howard Hughes. Soon Capitol records visited, and were hooked. They started making recordings: The Wildest, Return of the Wildest, The Wildest Show in Tahoe.
Keely also started making recordings for Capitol as a solo artist. Her role in the act was to provide a serious foil for Prima's crazy (wildest?) antics. However, Keely got to do a few ballads during the show, and that is basically what she recorded for Capitol. Her partners were Billy May and Nelson Riddle, whom had also produced great albums with Frank Sinatra. Her first album was "I Wish You Love" which had her most well-known song away from Prima. Her other Capitol albums included "Politely" and "Swinging Pretty".
In 1959 Smith and Prima won a lucrative contract with Dot records. Smith later regretted the move, saying that "it was never the same after that, not like it had been with Capitol". Her relationship with Prima also deteriorated, divorcing him in 1961. His philandering took its toll on their relationship, and unfortunately, the professional relationship also crumbled. Strangely enough, Prima's career lulled, and Smith's skyrocketed. It seemed that audiences linked Prima with Smith so much that he couldn't get jobs just by himself. Smith made her solo debut in Las Vegas in 1962 and later made an album in Great Britain of songs by the Beatles that was a big seller. Her albums for Dot include "Because You're Mine","Swing, You Lovers","Dearly Beloved", and "Be My Love". She also made an album for Reprise with Nelson Riddle called "Little Girl Blue" and some sides for RCA Victor.
Smith married record producer Jimmy Bowen (now divorced) and left her singing career to take care of her children Toni and Lusanne. She started singing again when they had grown up-she made a comeback album for Verve called "I'm In Love Again". She also has done shows with Sam Butera honoring Louis Prima, and they also appear in the Gap commercial doing "Jump Jive an' Wail" which is spearheading the swing craze amongst young people nowadays.
Most of the Dot recordings have been released on CD by Jasmine records. There is a compilation CD from Capitol in the "Great Ladies of Song" series. If you want to find the originals, a great internet site is E-Bay, which is an online auction service, and I have gotten many of her LP's from there.
Keely Smith is going to be making a rare appearance at the House of Blues in Los Angeles on September 23rd. If you are in the area, don't miss it! (send me a report, I live in Minnesota)!
Many thanks to Joseph F. Laredo for his informative notes on Keely Smith's Collector's Series CD and to Darin Tysdal who I stole this bio from.
b. Dorothy Smith, 9 March 1932, Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Smith was a jazzy singer who worked with her husband, bandleader Louis Prima. She made her professional debut in 1950, joining Prima three years later. As well as her solo spots with the big band, she frequently duetted with Prima on stylized versions of well-known songs. In 1958, one of these, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen's 'That Old Black Magic' became a surprise US Top 20 hit. 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 appeared with Prima in the movie Hey Boy, Hey Girl (1959), singing 'Fever', and she also sang on the soundtrack of Thunder Road (1958). In the early 60s, Smith separated from Prima and signed to Reprise, 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'.