Nephew honors legacy of Patti Page

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

To the world, she was one of America’s most popular and respected musical icons. To Tulsa, she was the local girl who became a superstar. To Michael Fowler, TU adjunct professor of music, she was simply Aunt Patti.

When Patti Page died January 1, 2013 at the age of 85, she left an incomparable legacy to the American music industry — selling more than 100 million records, a Grammy Foundation Award for Lifetime Achievement, 111 hits, 15 gold records and the only singer to concurrently top three Billboard charts (pop, country and R&B) with her legendary song, "Tennessee Waltz." A technical innovator, she was the first to "overdub" in the studio, recording her own four-part harmony.

To honor the memory of his aunt, Fowler helped establish The Patti Page Memorial Scholarship, which will be awarded each year to a full-time undergraduate student participating in the TU vocal jazz ensemble through the School of Music.

"In 38 years of teaching at TU, I’ve become familiar with the unique benefits of endowed scholarships," Fowler said. "Shortly after her passing, I realized a scholarship in Aunt Patti’s name was a logical way to honor her memory and exceptional musical legacy."

The 10th of 11 children, Clara Ann Fowler was born in Claremore, Oklahoma, in 1927. As a teen, she attended Tulsa’s Webster High School and played the role of "Patti Page," the featured singer in the local KTUL radio program sponsored by the Page Milk Company.

In 1946, saxophone player and band leader Jack Rael traveled through Tulsa and, by chance, heard Patti’s voice on the radio program. He immediately called the station to find out who the girl singer was and, within weeks, became the manager who would help her achieve stardom. He remained her manager for more than 50 years.

"When he first approached my grandparents and asked if he could take their 18-year-old daughter to Chicago to perform and make records, they said ‘no,’" Fowler said. "Instead of giving up, Rael persisted until they felt comfortable with him."

The large family remained close throughout Patti’s life; and the Fowlers, along with the entire Tulsa community, followed her career with pride. Fowler remembers growing up hearing his aunt on the radio every day and seeing her on numerous television programs. The entire extended family would reunite in Tulsa whenever Patti came home, and Fowler said she doted on her many nieces and nephews.

"My first memory of her was when I was about four years old, during the long height of her career. She had blond hair, a red sweater and blue jeans," Fowler recalled. "But, because she always went barefoot at home, I remember wondering why Aunt Patti didn’t have any shoes!"

The warm and personable Patti Page has long been regarded as Tulsa’s favorite daughter, but experts agree that her vocal and musical talent was truly unique.

"She had a silky voice but also had perfect pitch and created all her own harmonies by ear," said Vernon Howard, applied professor of music. "When you look at her music from a theoretical standpoint, you see its quality and understand why it is so pleasurable to hear."

Howard said creating more singers who can attain that level of proficiency is the goal of the endowed scholarship program.

"The scholarship will follow the student through their four years at TU, which will allow us to recruit singers who show the greatest promise," Howard said. "I believe those scholars will become the core of the program and lead other students to even higher achievement."

Family, friends and fans of Patti Page are working with Fowler to launch the endowed scholarship – including several popular artists who considered Patti an inspiration and model for their own careers.

"She had friends around the nation and world, including many performers with household names," Fowler said. "As people learn about this opportunity to honor her by supporting future generations of singers, the endowment will continue to grow."

The first Patti Page Scholarship should be awarded in fall 2014.

For more information on contributing to The Patti Page Memorial Scholarship, contact Suzy Thompson at 918-631-3152, or e-mail her at suzy-thompson@utulsa.edu.