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Keely Encore!

The one and only Keely Smith returns to Feinstein's at the Regency with a swinging new show. logo
[Ed. Note: Morgan Sills interviewed the great swing singer Keely Smith for TheaterMania on the occasion of her debut performance at Feinstein's at the Regency in May 2001 with Keely Sings Sinatra. The edited version of the transcript that was posted represented less than half of the lengthy Smith-Sills conversation (click here to see the interview as it ran). Now that Smith is bringing to Feinstein's a new show titled Swing, Swing, Swing!, based on another of her Concord CDs, here is a piece that incorporates the remainder of their talk.]


THEATERMANIA: Your vocal longevity is amazing. What's your secret? What kind of warm-up exercises do you do?

KEELY SMITH: Well, if I'm going from one job to another and I only have a couple of days in between, then I do nothing. But if I've been off a month or two months, then I take at least two weeks, maybe three, and rehearse a couple of hours each day just to get my muscles back in shape.

TM: What have you learned about performing that you didn't know when you started out?

KEELY: Golly! I still can't read music, so I can't say I learned that. But I'm more sure of myself. I do know this: Nobody will ever interfere with what I do on stage. I mean, Bobby [Smith's husband, Bobby Milano] will sometimes have an opinion on something but, if I disagree with it, I'll go with my own thinking. I'm just a plain person. I sing like I talk--and, when I'm on stage, I talk just like I'm talking to you. Hopefully, I don't say anything wrong!

TM: During your time at Capitol Records, you were keeping company with the best popular singers of the 20th century.

KEELY: Yes. Frank was there, and Kay Starr and Margaret Whiting. Judy was there, Ella was there, and Peggy. I didn't know Judy that well, but I met her a few times and I liked her a lot. She was a very sweet girl. Ella I adored; she and June Christy were the singers I listened to in high school. I became friends with Ella, and I was so proud of that friendship. I stayed in touch with her until she passed away. But my favorite in the whole world was Nat Cole. He was without a doubt the nicest person I've ever met in show business. He was a sweetheart, a classy gentleman, and I loved him very much.

TM: You dedicated your Keely Sings Sinatra album to your mother. In what ways are you like her?

KEELY: I'm very Southern and my mother was very, very Southern. She was strictly into her husband and children, and I'm very much like that. I think I also got her honesty. My mother never really said too much when she was younger but then, as she got older--boy, she just said anything she wanted to!

Keely Smith with Louis Prima,
many moons ago...
TM: Your professional partnership with Louis Prima was extremely successful in the 1950s, but your marriage was rocky. I've read that when you went to see him perform in the '70s, years after your divorce, he spoke to you about reconciling. What made you say no?

KEELY: When he became ill, his wife got in touch with my daughters and they went to see him. Then Louis called me and said, "I'd like you to come over and have dinner with me and the kids." So I went and we started talking. He said, "You know, I still love you." And I said, "Louis, I love you too. I'll always love you. But I'm not in love with you anymore. That little girl that I was when we divorced--she's not there any longer. I've become very independent." We talked about a business venture. I said, "I can work with you but I don't want any static from your wife." And he said, "Let me handle that." Anyhow, it never did materialize. I think it still would have been a good act.

TM: You've been married to Bobby Milano for 28 years. What's he like?

KEELY: To begin with, he's very Italian--I mean really, dyed-in-the-wool Italian. Every year, we go to Buffalo to see his family. We stay there a month, and I love it. Actually, Bobby is a singer--a wonderful singer. He had come to see my show in Las Vegas and so, out of courtesy, I went to see his show. He was working at the Tropicana Hotel. I sat there and I was stunned by how well he sang, so I kept going back night after night, and one thing led to another.

TM: What's the status of your autobiography?

KEELY: It's going to be called Keely Smith: The Last Witness. I stopped working on it at one point because there were some things that, when I saw what I had typed up, I thought, "You know, I'm not quite ready for all of this to be made public." But I really want to finish it.

TM: And there's talk that the Louis Prima/Keely Smith story is going to be made into a movie.

KEELY: Yes. But I figured I'd just go ahead and finish the book, because I'd have to sit down and do almost the same thing with the screenplay writer.

TM: And if the book's a hit, you get more money when they make it into a movie.

KEELY: Right!

...and Keely today
TM: What do you like to do for fun when you come to perform in New York?

KEELY: I like to see some shows, if I have the time. I love walking up Fifth Avenue. I like to go to Rockefeller Center and to take a hansom cab ride through the park. I'm really just a tourist.

TM: You've now got a star of your own on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. That must be thrilling.

KEELY: Well, the biggest thrill is that my name is all by itself there. When Louis and I broke up, he told me I'd never be anything without him--and that's what went through my head the day of the ceremony. It's a big thing when they do that in Hollywood: They close off the street and busloads of fans come up for autographs. It's quite an honor.

TM: Is this a happy time in your life?

KEELY: Yes. But I can be happy just reading a book, or playing with my dog, or sitting on my patio looking at my flowers. I don't need to go out and wave a flag and say, "Hey, here I am!"

TM: If Louis Prima hadn't discovered you, what would you have ended up doing?

KEELY: Getting married and having kids.

TM: You did that anyway!

KEELY: I know...but not in Virginia.

TM: Well, I guess that's it for this interview, unless you've got something you want to see about yourself on the internet that's not out there yet.

KEELY: Nah, I don't think so. I don't really think that far ahead!


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