Keely Smith was one of the originators of the modern Las Vegas lounge act with her husband, Louis Prima. Together the couple changed the way performances were given on the Strip through the innovative lounge act. Smith and Prima appeared in hotel bars, performing until the early morning. They performed at the Sahara Hotel while also churning out hit songs.
Keely Smith’s real name was Dorothy Jacqueline Keely and she was born in Norfolk, Virginia. By chance, she saw Louis Prima perform while vacationing in Atlantic City in 1947 and encouraged the local club owner to bring Louis to Virginia Beach, near her hometown of Norfolk. The next year, her wish was fulfilled and Prima appeared in Virginia Beach. While there, he auditioned new singers and Smith was selected. After her selection, Prima decided she needed a better stage name and renamed her Keely Smith. Smith and Prima appeared together for the first time in 1950. They were married in 1953.
The duo appeared at the Casbar Lounge at the Sahara Hotel five nights a week, performing hit songs of the era. They were popular performers and attracted a variety of people to their shows, from middle-class tourists to celebrities. During this time, Capitol Records released a record of their hits. Smith and Prima’s recording of “That Old Black Magic” won a Grammy award at the first Grammy ceremony in 1958. In 1961, the couple broke up, ending their marriage and partnership on stage. Each went on to individual careers and Smith enjoyed some success as a solo artist. Her career suffered when she decided to take a hiatus from performing to spend more time with her children. Smith’s career never recovered, but she continues to be remembered as important contributor to the Las Vegas entertainment industry.
Source: Keely Smith. SwingMusic.net. Accessed Fall 2005.
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