Keely Smith

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Keely Smith
Birth name Dorothy Jacqueline Keely
Born (1928-03-09)March 9, 1928
Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
Died December 16, 2017(2017-12-16) (aged 89)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Genres Jazz, vocal jazz, pop
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1949–2017
Labels Capitol, Dot
Associated acts Louis Prima

Dorothy Jacqueline Keely (March 9, 1928 – December 16, 2017), better known as Keely Smith, was an American jazz and popular music singer, who performed and recorded extensively in the 1950s with then-husband Louis Prima, and throughout the 1960s as a solo artist.[1]


Of Irish and Cherokee ancestry,[2] at age 14, Smith sang with a naval air station band led by Saxie Dowell. At 15, she got her first paying job with the Earl Bennett band. She saw Louis Prima perform in New York City in 1949. They recorded together in 1949 and married in 1953.[3]

Their songs included Johnny Mercer's and Harold Arlen's "That Old Black Magic," which was a Top 20 hit in the US in 1958. At the 1st Annual Grammy Awards in 1959, Smith and Prima won the first Grammy for Best Performance by a Vocal Group for "That Old Black Magic". Her deadpan act was popular 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. Though her actual voice was not used, she was caricatured as "Squealy Smith" in Bob Clampett's 1960 Beany and Cecil episode "So What and the Seven Whatnots," a Snow White spoof in a Vegas setting.[4]

Smith appeared with Prima in the movie Hey Boy! Hey Girl!, singing "Fever", and also appeared in and sang on the soundtrack of the previous year's film Thunder Road. Her song in Thunder Road was "Whippoorwill". Her first big solo hit was "I Wish You Love" in 1957. In 1961, Smith divorced Prima. She then signed with Reprise Records, where her musical director was Nelson Riddle. In 1965, she had Top 20 hits in the United Kingdom with an album of Beatles compositions, Keely Smith Sings The John Lennon—Paul McCartney Songbook, and a single, "You're Breaking My Heart", which reached No. 14 in April.[5]

She returned to singing in 1985, recording the album I'm in Love Again with Bud Shank and Bill Perkins.[3] Her albums, Swing, Swing, Swing (2000), Keely Sings Sinatra (2001) for which she received a Grammy nomination, and Keely Swings Basie-Style With Strings (2002) won critical and popular acclaim.[3] In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her.[6]


  • Married Louis Leo Prima July 13, 1953, in Virginia Beach; the couple divorced in 1961. They had two children: Toni Elizabeth and Luanne Francis.
  • Married Jimmy Bowen in 1965. The couple divorced in 1969.[7]
  • Married singer Bobby Milano (real name Charles Caci) in 1975 in Palm Springs. Frank Sinatra gave the bride away.[8]

Legal matters

In 1986, Smith faced legal problems for failing to withhold employee personal income and disability insurance taxes in connection with vending companies (including Piggy Vending) she owned in Palm Springs, California.[9][10] She was arrested for offences relating to the use of alcohol and illegal drugs.


On December 16, 2017, Smith died of apparent heart failure in Palm Springs, California, at the age of 89.[11] She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.[12]


Solo albums

With Louis Prima

  • 1958 Breaking It Up! (Columbia)
  • 1958 Louis Prima & Keely Smith on Broadway (Coronet)
  • 1959 Louis and Keely! (Dot)
  • 1960 Together (Dot)
  • 1961 Return of the Wildest! (Dot)

With Louis Prima, Sam Butera & The Witnesses

  • 1957 The Call of the Wildest (Capitol)
  • 1957 The Wildest Show at Tahoe (Capitol)
  • 1958 Las Vegas Prima Style (Capitol)
  • 1959 Hey Boy! Hey Girl! (Capitol)
  • 1960 On Stage (Dot)


  1. ^ Clavin, Tom (December 17, 2017). "That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas". Chicago Review Press. Retrieved December 18, 2017 – via Google Books. 
  2. ^ I Wish You Love album liner notes (1958)
  3. ^ a b c Unterberger, Richie. "Keely Smith | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved February 8, 2017. 
  4. ^ Beany and Cecil - So What and the Seven Whatnots on YouTube
  5. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London, UK: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 509. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  6. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated Archived 2012-10-13 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "Keely Smith Granted Default Divorce". The Palm Beach Post. July 30, 1969. 
  8. ^ "Keely Smith". Herald Journal. January 25, 1975. 
  9. ^ "Keely Smith faces over 25 tax counts". The Pittsburg Press. AP. July 12, 1986. p. A2. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 
  10. ^ Organized Crime in California 1978. 1979. p. 19. 
  11. ^ "Iconic vocalist Keely Smith dies from apparent heart failure at 89". 17 December 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  12. ^ "Legendary Jazz Singer Keely Smith Dies At 89". 18 December 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017. 

External links

  • NPR: "Keely Smith: A Swingin' Icon of Early Vegas"
  • Interview by KUOW-FM's Amanda Wilde
  • Keely Smith on IMDb
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