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Backstage with Ron Onesti: Such sweet memories of the late Patti Page

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 6:58 p.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 3)

In these days of high-speed Internet and music downloads, it really doesn’t take much to be an international superstar with the right creative packaging and financing behind you. But even with that kind of digital muscle, how difficult would it be to sell more than 100 million records featuring more than 1,000 songs, 111 hits and 15 gold records?

As of yet, not seemingly possible for a solo artist. One classy lady DID accomplish this miraculous feat – and, for the most part, not by traveling in cyberspace, but by hitting the pavement, one town at a time. Oh, and by the way, it was on vinyl records that she did it!

We lost Patti Page – “The Singing Rage” – recently at the age of 85.

In 2008, we were honored to host an historic Veteran’s Day tribute concert with Patti that wound up also being her 80th birthday celebration. I had heard that she was a sweet lady, and she did not disappoint when she arrived. First came a hug, then came a hello. She and her husband Jerry, who was a character in his own right, were happy to be back in the Chicago area.

Originally from Tulsa, Okla., Patti performed one of her first “big city” gigs at The Chez Paree in downtown Chicago. It was the place for entertainment back then. All the big stars of the day frequented the place. “I have great memories of Chicago,” she said. She also played the Bismarck Hotel and fell in love with the lakefront. It was a more serene part of the big city, something that reminded her of home.

We had dinner before the show, and I asked her about the days on the road in the ’50s.  She said that it really was a whirlwind because television was just getting started in regards to making singers celebrities.

She recalled the first time her family saw her on TV, and said something like: “It was the typical crowd of people gathered around the window of the local department store watching it. When I got home, I was able to buy that TV for my family!”

As she hit the stage that night, so many fans actually cried. Patti represented a better time for many of those people; you could just see it in their eyes. How such a simple, novelty song titled “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” could be welcomed the same way Frank Sinatra singing “My Way” was, clearly brought back childhood memories long ago forgotten.

Patti’s biggest hit (selling more than 20 million copies) was “Tennessee Waltz.”

As the violins began and she tenderly sang “I was dancing, with my darling ... ,” (the first bars of the song) the crowd collectively sighed, taking in every note.

But probably the most poignant moment of the evening, for me, was a song she sang in tribute to those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 tragedy in New York.

It was called “Little Did She Know,” and it was about a man who got ready in the morning with the help of his wife, who helped him find his socks.

The man was preparing for a flight to L.A. and for some reason, the wife kissed him twice goodbye. As the song goes, the wife got a call from the husband while he was in the air – he told her he loved her, and the phone went dead; the man wound up being one of the people who lost their lives that fateful day.

The lyrics of the song talk about the wife’s last goodbye that morning, and “Little did she know she kissed a hero.”

I write this at the risk of short-circuiting my laptop – my tears still fall when I think of Patti singing that song.

About a week after the show, I received a package from her. It was a beautiful thank you note with a bottle of Patti Page 100 percent maple syrup.

She and her husband produced it at their farm in New Hampshire. And when you unscrewed the cap, her voice sang about the syrup. My 5-year old loved it – a musical syrup bottle!

And now that she has passed away, I have found solace in reflecting about that sweet night when we celebrated her 80th birthday and her smile filled our stage.

It’s actually a sweeter memory on quiet Sunday mornings over pancakes.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corp. and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Send comments or celebrity questions to spark@kcchronicle.com.

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