LAS VEGAS – When the first Grammy Awards were held in 1959, singer Keely Smith didn't even know she had won.
"We knew nothing about it until it was all over. After it was all done, our producer gave us the award and said, 'By the way, you won this."'
Now, 43 years later, Smith, 69, has been nominated again, this time for Keely Sings Sinatra, a collection of Frank Sinatra hits. The nomination is in the traditional pop vocal album category. Also nominated: Betty Buckley, Rosemary Clooney, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Feinstein.
Surprised at her nomination, she's enjoying the experience she missed in 1959. She plans to attend a party for nominees the night before the show, although she's heard that many don't go. And on Feb. 27, she'll be in the audience at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to experience "this Grammy thing," as she calls it.
Smith and her husband, Louis Prima, won a Grammy for their 1958 hit, "That Old Black Magic." They were regulars on the Las Vegas Strip in the '50s and '60s, becoming friends with Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack — Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
She and Prima took their act to Las Vegas lounges and were joined by Prima's friend, sax player Sam Butera. They were the talk of the town, ushering in the era of lounge entertainment. Prima played the comedian; Smith, the straight woman.
Smith and Prima were divorced in 1961; Prima died in 1978. Smith, who never thought she could be as successful on her own, says she's grateful that "someone like me" is again being considered among the best in music.
Keely Sings Sinatra is the second of a five-CD deal with Concord Records. It includes "New York, New York," "Night and Day" and "I've Got You Under My Skin."
The first CD, Swing, Swing, Swing, features Smith singing "Jump, Jive an' Wail," which was a hit for her and Prima. The Gap used the original recording in its 1998 clothing commercials.
1. Where did you get the idea for Keely Sings Sinatra?
Smith: It was my husband's idea — Bobby Milano. We recorded it when Frank was alive. We did it not as a tribute to Frank, but singing to him. It took us about eight months to do it. As we were mastering it, Frank passed away.
2. You had a romance with Sinatra, right?
Smith: When Frank came into my life, I wasn't in awe of him like everybody else was. At that point, Louis and I, our career started taking off. All of a sudden he (Prima) was all over town, drinking and smoking. Little by little, I guess I fell in love with him (Sinatra) and he fell in love with me.
3. And he proposed?
Smith: He asked. But, No. 1, I would never leave a man for another man. I would never fit into his life. I didn't drink. I didn't smoke. I didn't cuss. I truly believe in my heart if we had gotten married, we would have divorced.
4. You spent a lot of time with the Rat Pack. What were they like?
Smith: Wonderful. I adored Peter Lawford. I knew Sammy from the Apollo Theatre. Dean was my favorite. Dean was the sweetheart of all of them. We had a saying: Frank thought he was king; Dean knew he was king. They were a great bunch of guys.
5. How does it feel to be nominated again, 43 years later?
Smith: I still get emotional over it. When Louis and I broke up, he said I'd never be anything without him. That's one of the reasons why this award would be so special to me.