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Keely Smith

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Biography

Keely Smith, (born March 9, 1932), 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 exquisite singing style and her great beauty. In recent years, Smith resumed her career to critical acclaim.

Keely was born Dorothy Jaqueline Keely in Norfolk, Virginia of part Cherokee descent. She showed a natural aptitude for singing at a very young age. At age fourteen, Smith started singing with a naval air station band led by Saxie Dowell. At fifteen, she got her first paying job with the Earl Bennett band.

Smith made her professional debut with Prima in 1949 (the couple were married in 1953); Smith played the “straight guy” in the duo to Prima’s wild antics and they recorded many duets together. 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 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 movie 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 very best. Her first big solo hit was “I Wish You Love”.

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