Keely Smith, a pop and jazz singer known for her solo recordings of jazz standards as well as her musical partnership with Louis Prima, has died of apparent heart failure in Palm Springs. She was 89.
According to a news release from her publicist Bob Merlis, Smith was under a physician’s care when she died Saturday.
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.”
In a news release her publicist said 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 married Jimmy Bowen in 1965. Her third marriage was to Bobby Milano in the 1970s.
During her seven-decade career Smith was lauded by critics for her bold voice and ability to make the music swing, and she received several awards including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For the 50th Grammy Awards in 2008, she performed “That Old Black Magic” as a duet with Kid Rock.
Smith has lived in Palm Springs for about 40 years. She is survived by her two children, Toni Prima and Luanne Prima.