IN MEMORIAM: Keely Smith – “That Old Black Magic” – Dies // Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths
Dorothy Jacqueline Keely (March 9, 1928, Norfolk, Virginia – December 16, 2017, Palm Springs, California), better known as Keely Smith, was a Grammy Award-winning 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.
Of Irish and Cherokee ancestry, 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.
Their songs included Johnny Mercer’s and Harold Arlen’s “That Ol’ 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 Ol’ 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 Andrew 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.
Smith appeared with Prima in Hey Boy! Hey Girl!, singing “Fever”, and also appeared in and sang on the soundtrack of the previous year’s 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, and a single, “You’re Breaking My Heart” which reached No. 14 in April.
She returned to singing in 1985, recording the album I’m in Love Again with Bud Shank and Bill Perkins. 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. In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her.
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. She had arrest issues dealing with alcoholism and illegal drugs.
On December 16, 2017, Smith died of apparent heart failure in Palm Springs, California at the age of 89. She will be buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths… December 2017
20: Combat Jack, 48, American music journalist (The Source, Complex), historian and podcaster, colon cancer.
19: Leo Welch, 85, American blues musician.
18: Jim Forrester, 43, American bass guitarist (Sixty Watt Shaman) and body modification artist, shot; Kim Jong-hyun, 27, South Korean singer-songwriter (Shinee) and radio host, suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
17: Virginia Da Brescia), 81, Italian singer and actress; Kevin Mahogany, 59, American jazz singer.
16: Ralph Carney, 61, American saxophonist (Tin Huey, Tom Waits) and composer (BoJack Horseman), head injuries from fall; Richard Dobson, 75, American country singer-songwriter;
Juli Fábián, 37, Hungarian singer-songwriter; Randy Hongo, 70, American musician; Michael Prophet, 60, Jamaican reggae singer; Keely Smith, 89, American singer (“That Old Black Magic”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”), Grammy winner (1959), heart failure; Z’EV, 66, American percussionist and poet.
15: Dave Christenson, 54, American musician (Stabilizers), lung cancer; John Critchinson, 82, English jazz pianist.
13: Warrel Dane, 56, American rock singer (Sanctuary, Nevermore), heart attack; Rory O’Donoghue, 68, Australian musician and actor (The Aunty Jack Show), suicide; Willie Pickens, 86, American jazz pianist (Eddie Harris, Elvin Jones) and educator (American Conservatory of Music).