In Memoriam: Vocalist Keely Smith


Louis Prima (left) and Keely Smith

(Photo: DownBeat Archives)

Keely Smith, a vocalist who recorded throughout the 1950s and 1960s alongside Louis Prima and Frank Sinatra, died of heart failure Dec. 16 in Palm Springs, California, according to a news release.

Smith, whose birthday has been reported as being March 19, 1928 or 1932, first began performing with Prima’s ensemble in 1948 after an audition. The pair wed in 1953. The duo’s rendition of “That Old Black Magic” earned them a Grammy in the category Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group for 1958.

“When I was a kid in Norfolk, [Virginia], … I fell madly in love with Louis’ music, particularly with his record of Civilization,” Smith told DownBeat in a cover story that ran in the Feb. 19, 1959, edition. “Hearin’ that set me to thinkin’ how it’d be to work with his band.”

By 1961, though, the couple had split and Smith pursued a solo career.

Smith received a 2002 Grammy nomination for her album Keely Sings Sinatra.

She would sing in public for the final time during a performance at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center in Southern California in February 2011.

She is survived by two children, Toni Prima and Luanne Prima. Services for the singer currently are in the works.

To read a DownBeat review of the reissue of The Intimate Keely Smith, click here. DB

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