Tennessee Waltz singer Patti Page dies at 85

Patti Page, the top-selling singer of the 1950s known for hits such as Tennessee Waltz and (How Much is that) Doggie in the Window, has died. She was 85.

Also known for Doggie in the Window, Confess

Popular American recording artist and television star Patti Page rehearses a dance routine with English actor Ian Carmichael, watched by Ronnie Hylton, right, in London's Regent's Park in 1961. (John Franks/Getty Images)

Patti Page, the top-selling singer of the 1950s known for hits such as Tennessee Waltz and (How Much is that) Doggie in the Window, has died. She was 85.

Page died on New Year's Day in Encinitas, Calif., according to her publicist, Schatzi Hageman.

Page, known as the "Singing Rage," was popular in pop music and country and had television programs on all three major U.S. networks.

Page had hits with Mockin' Bird Hill, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Allegheny Moon and Confess, in which she dubbed her own background vocals behind the main track, a new innovation in music.

Never wanted to be a singer

Born Nov. 8, 1927, as Clara Ann Fowler in Claremore, Okla., Page said she never aspired to be a singer, but was told she could sing.

She got her stage name working at radio station KTUL in Tulsa,  which had a 15-minute program featuring a singer named Patti Page sponsored by Page Milk Co. When the regular Patti Page left, she took over and the stage name stuck.

American popular music singer Patti Page is shown in the late 1940s. She died Jan. 1. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Jack Rael, a band leader who stopped in Tulsa in 1946, began managing her after hearing her voice on the radio in 1946.

A year later she signed a contract with Mercury Records and began appearing in major nightclubs in the Chicago area.

Her first major hit was With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming, with the same overdubbing of her own voice that she used on Confess, this time, in four-part harmony.

Tennessee Waltz a B side

The success of Tennessee Waltz, which was covered later by dozens of other artists, was a fluke. It was the B side to a recording of Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, a song Mercury urged her to record in 1950.

"Mercury wanted to concentrate on a Christmas song and they didn't want anything with much merit on the flip side," Page said.

"They didn't want any disc jockeys to turn the Christmas record over. The title of that great Christmas song was Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, and no one ever heard of it."

Page and Rael were convinced a pop version of Tennessee Waltz could be a winner among listeners and radio audiences soon agreed with them.

The song was on the pop, country and R& B charts for 30 weeks and sold more than 10 million copies, behind only White Christmas by Bing Crosby at the time.

Page a TV darling

Page toured internationally and became a TV darling appearing on The Big Record and her own variety vehicle The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show in 1958. More recently, her music appeared on the soundtrack of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

She later appeared opposite Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry and in Boy's Night Out with James Garner and Kim Novack.

In 1999, after 51 years of performing, Page won her first Grammy for traditional pop vocal performance for Live at Carnegie Hall — The 50th Anniversary Concert. On Feb. 9 in Los Angeles, she was to have received a lifetime achievement award from The Recording Academy.  

Page and husband Jerry Filiciotto spent half the year living in Southern California and half in an 1830s farmhouse in New Hampshire. He died in 2009.

Page is survived by her son, Daniel O'Curran, daughter Kathleen Ginn and sister Peggy Layton.

With files from The Associated Press