I know I might be taking my life in my hands by saying so, but I think of all the great “girl” singers who emerged in the 40’s and 50’s Keely Smith was the best. And by best, I mean to my ear she had everything: a beautiful tone, great technique, wonderful musicianship, interpretive sensitivity and an ease in a vast array of repertoire from American Songbook classics, to sentimental ballads, to outright shake-your-boogie swing.
Of course there was Ella. Of course there was Sarah. Of course there was Rosemary. Peggy, Jo, Doris, Margaret, Kay, Patti, Carmen, and many others. All great. And for many, the greatest. But to me, Keely just had the voice that wouldn’t quit. When I finally saw her live in 2003, that point was driven home like a limo through the living room. After the VO introduction, over the sound system came her signature song, “I Wish you Love,” which, to all of us in the sold out auditorium, was the recording she made in the 50’s. We applauded dutifully until our applause turned to gasps as she strode onstage from the wings with a microphone to her lips. It wasn’t a recording: she was singing live.
The voice still had all the famous attributes that made her so great, with a warmer bottom and an upper extension that put the audience on ithttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4hLH8CafsYs feet. It was a great honor to see and hear this modest paragon as a septuagenarian laying it down like singers one-third her age could only dream of. No major synth action or electronic enhancements (Blige, Beyonce and Gaga take note). This was talent amplified. And she had it in spades.
This rousing version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” captures both the natural beauty of her voice with a drop-dead delivery that has panache, punch and power. Swing, swing, swing Keely! Enjoy
Sean O’Meara performs his “American Songbook Gold” around Southern California with original arrangements by Ed Martel of some of America’s greatest songs.