Ron Onesti: Sweet memories of Patti Page
In these days of high-speed internet and music downloads, it really doesn't take much to be an international superstar with the right creative packaging and financing behind you. Even with that kind of digital muscle, how difficult would it be to sell over 100 million records featuring more than 1,000 songs, 111 hits and 15 gold albums?
As of yet, not even possible for a solo artist.
However, one classy lady DID accomplish this miraculous feat … and for the most part, not by traveling in cyberspace, but by hitting the pavement, one town at a time. Oh, and by the way, she accomplished this on vinyl records!
We lost Patti Page, "The Singing Rage," at the age of 85.
In 2008, we were honored to host a historic Veterans Day tribute concert with Patti that wound up also being her 80th birthday celebration. I had heard she was a sweet lady, and she did not disappoint when she arrived. First came a hug, then came a hello. She and her husband, Jerry, who was a character in his own right, were happy to be back in the Chicago area.
Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Patti performed one of her first "big city" gigs at the Chez Paree in downtown Chicago. It was the place for entertainment back then. All the big stars of the day frequented the place. "I have great memories of Chicago," she said. She also played the Bismarck Hotel and fell in love with the lakefront. It was a more serene part of the big city, something that reminded her of home.
We had dinner before the show and I asked her about the days on the road in the 1950s. She said it really was a whirlwind because television was just getting started with regards to making singers celebrities. She recalled the first time her family saw her on TV. "It was the typical crowd of people gathered around the window of the local department store watching it," she said. "When I got home, I was able to buy that TV for my family!"
As she hit the stage that night, so many fans actually cried. Patti represented a better time for many of those people, you could just see it in their eyes. How such a simple, novelty song titled "How Much Is that Doggie in the Window" could be welcomed the same way Frank Sinatra singing "My Way" was, clearly brought back childhood memories long ago forgotten.
Patti's biggest hit (selling over 20 million copies) was "Tennessee Waltz." As the violins began and she tenderly sang "I was dancing, with my darling" (the first bars of the song), the crowd collectively sighed, taking in every note.
But probably the most poignant moment of the evening for me was a song she sang in tribute to those who lost their lives in the 911 tragedy in New York. It was called "Little Did She Know," and it was about a man who got ready in the morning with the help of his wife who helped him find his socks. He was preparing for a flight to L.A. and for some reason, she kissed him twice goodbye. As she got a call from him while he was in the air, he told her he loved her and the phone went dead. He wound up being one of the fateful people who lost their lives that day. When she said goodbye to him that morning, "Little did she know she was kissing a hero." At the risk of short-circuiting my laptop, my tears still fall when I think of her singing that song.
About a week after the show, I received a package from her. It was a beautiful thank you note with a bottle of Patti Page 100% Maple Syrup. She and her husband produced this at their farm in New Hampshire. And when you unscrewed the cap, her voice sang about the syrup. My 5-year old loved it … a musical syrup bottle!
And now that she has passed away, I have found solace in reflecting about that sweet night when we celebrated her 80th birthday and her smile filled our stage. It's actually a sweeter memory on quiet Sunday mornings over pancakes.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of the Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email email@example.com.