Famed nightclub singer Keely Smith has died at 89 years old. Smith was best known for her collaborations with former husband Louis Prima, as well as famed crooner Frank Sinatra. Her performances were also instrumental in transforming Las Vegas into a hotspot for show business (video below).
On Dec. 16, Smith died of heart failure while under the care of a physician in Palm Springs, California. She is survived by her daughters Toni Prima and Luanne Prima.
Smith was born Dorothy Jacqueline Keely in Norfolk, Virginia, on March 9, 1928. She grew up poor and taught herself how to sing, performing at military bases so she could pay for school clothes, according to The Washington Post.
In 1948, Smith landed a slot on Prima's band and toured with the renowned singer and bandleader. She distinguished herself from the rowdy band by cracking up audiences with her deadpan delivery on stage. She married Prima and 1953. The couple won a Grammy in 1958 for the recording of "That Old Black Magic."
Smith and Prima became mainstays in Las Vegas. Their lounge act was credited for helping turn the Nevada city into an entertainment destination.
"They really did establish the kind of dynamic between them that later we found in other acts, like Sonny and Cher in particular learned a lot from Louis and Keely," biographer Tom Clavin told NPR in December 2010.
Keely later divorced from Prima and became a solo act, with some notable collaborations with Sinatra.
"She's always considered Frank Sinatra a very good friend and they had a very close relationship," Clavin continued. "After Louis and Keely broke up, apparently she and Sinatra had -- their relationship went to another level and she contends that they might have even gotten married, but she realized that they would not stay together long term and she didn't want to go that direction."
Smith married music producer Jimmy Bowen in 1965 and later lived with Charles J. Caci, whose stage name was Bobby Milano, as a domestic partner for 30 years.
In 2001, Smith was nominated for a Grammy for her album "Keely Sings Sinatra." She had gotten Sinatra's blessing for the album before his death in 1998.
"I don't know if I'd put anybody up with her," singer Jack Jones told the Desert Sun. "She had this quality, you could tell it was her. She was a beautiful singer and she just had that quality, which was so appealing. A lot of innocence."
Music producer Dennis Michaels, who was also Smith's son-in-law, concluded that the late star "was probably on the greatest female pop-jazz singers this country has ever produced."