Keely Smith, a pop and jazz singer known as the ‘Queen of Las Vegas’ as well as for her solo recordings and musical partnership with Louis Prima, has died in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 89.
Smith was under a physician’s care for heart failure when she died Dec. 16, according to publicist Bob Merlis.
Smith was born Dorothy Jacqueline Keely in Norfolk, Virginia on March 9, 1928, and got her first paying job singing with the Earl Bennett band when she was just 15. She later auditioned to sing with Louis Prima’s band, and began touring with them in 1948. She and Prima married in 1953, and together they won a Grammy for their hit, “That Old Black Magic” in 1959.
In 2001 – 42 years later – Smith was nominated for a Grammy for her album “Keely Sings Sinatra.”
Smith was focused on being in control of her own career, setting up her own record label “Keely Records” in conjunction with friend Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records. She divorced Prima in 1961 and continued her career as a solo artist, receiving several awards and continuing her live performances in Las Vegas.
For the 50th Grammy Awards in 2008, she performed “That Old Black Magic” as a duet with Kid Rock.
Smith continued to perform well into the aughts. Indicative of her enduring hold on audiences, she sold an average of 83 percent of her houses despite being some 50 years past her hit-making glory days with Prima. Her final concert at the 1,381-capacity Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts was Feb. 13, 2011, where she sold 1,077 tickets for a gross of $75,206.