Keely SmithView in iTunes
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Keely Smith is mostly known as the duet partner of Louis Prima, she took the straighter role in their raucous, just-this-side-of-parodical blends of jazz, jump blues, and Italian pop, on record and in their Vegas-oriented shows. Smith, however, was also a reasonably talented singer of straight pop material, although not in the same class as the leading female vocalists of the 1950s. Her most respected solo recordings are her earliest Prima-less outings, made for Capitol in the late '50s with orchestral direction by Nelson Riddle and Billy May. Smith was only 15 when she first saw Prima perform in New York City. The following summer, Prima played her hometown of Norfolk, VA, at the same time he was looking for a new female singer. Smith won the job on a more or less spur-of-the-moment audition, and recorded her first duets with Prima in 1949. Eventually they became romantically involved as well, marrying in 1953, and recording throughout the '50s, though they had their greatest success as one of Las Vegas' most successful stage acts. When the singers were signed to Capitol, Prima stipulated that Smith get her own recording deal. Her subsequent Capitol albums were accomplished readings of popular standards, sometimes swinging mildly, although Smith seemed more comfortable with ballads. She and Prima left Capitol for Dot at the end of the '50s, and in 1961 she divorced him on grounds of extreme mental cruelty. Smith would devote more time to her family as the '60s progressed, but she continued recording as a solo act. She made an entire album of Beatles songs (presumably not aimed toward the audience that bought actual Beatles records), and even had a Top 20 British hit in 1965 with "You're Breakin' My Heart." She made a comeback album in 1985 on Fantasy with I'm in Love Again, which featured accompaniment from top West Coast jazzmen Bud Shank and Bill Perkins. ~ Richie Unterberger