OPAL KEENEY "ODETTE KEENE"

The Tales of a Blair Family    

Odette Keene (stage name) was born Opal Keeney on September 11, 1897.  She was the only child of Frank W. Keeney and Nellie Jane McClure.  When Odette was a year old the family moved to Maquoketa, Iowa.   The Keeney family was a musical family.  Odette's grandfather, Henry Keeney, had a dance orchestra which he later turned over to his son, Frank, who still later turned it over to his daughter, Odette.  The personnel changed from time to time but the orchestra was in the family for three generations. Frank Keeney gave generously of his time to developing talent for this organization and for the Maquoketa Concert Band which he managed for several years.  He also owned and operated a music store in the town of Maquoketa.

Odette began violin lessons at the age of 8 and later learned the piano, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet and guitar.  She also studied dancing.  By the age of 13 she was teaching and writing her own music.  In 1915 she graduated from Maquoketa High School, an honor student with an over 90 average.

After graduation she went on a Standard Chautauqua tour as a pianist with the Sidle Concert Orchestra.  The next year she played a season in vaudeville as violinist and harmony singer with the Keene-Browne Trio followed by a season on the other side of the footlights as pianist with the pit orchestra at the Orpheum Theater in Clinton, Iowa, where acts on the Orpheum Circuit broke the jump from Chicago to Omaha.

In 1918 she returned to Maquoketa and married Ray Crabb on May 9th of that year.  The marriage was not a happy one and the couple were later divorced in 1929.  The couple never had children. While in Maquoketa she resumed teaching music and dance.  In 1925 she organized the Melody Maids, a concert group who became popular all over Eastern Iowa.   Her specialty was playing violin and dancing at the same time to Brahms Fifth Hungarian Dance.

sb013.gif (51428 bytes)After her divorce in 1929, Odette went to New York and joined "The Violinettes", four girls who worked in the Dave Harris Revue, "Variety Land".  They toured the southern states, played in Canadian and  New York theaters.  Odette wrote the orchestrations for the unit.

Back in Maquoketa in 1931 she discovered the talented 12 year old boy singer, T. J. Miller, and organized a group of girl musicians and dancers to appear with him.  Billed as "The Musical Misses and T. J. Miller", they played many times in the Iowa area.  She also continued to teach music and dancing and instructed orchestras in the Monmouth and Elwood schools.  She used talented pupils in the floor show featuring her dance band and gave annual recitals which included orchestras, instrumental soloists, singers, beautifully costumed dancers and always an original dramatic song and dance sketch.  At the last recital a prize was given to her 1000th pupil!

Odette headed for the big time in Hollywood in 1942, when she was hired to write the music for the movie, "All Out for Victory". She remained in Hollywood following this job and joined the faculty of Hollywood Theatrical Training Studio as a vocal coach and arranger.  Later she opened the "Odette Keene Studio".  Her pupils included many juveniles who worked in pictures and television.  Among them were Debbie Reynolds, Teri Moore, Helene Stanley, Hamilton Camp, Shelley Fabares and Ian Bernard who later became the music director on "Laugh-In".

sb013b.gif (36160 bytes)She also formed her own variety show, "The Odette Keene Revue", a group who played casuals such as banquet dates, lodge affairs, private parties and college programs as well as Army, Navy and Marine bases and USO clubs.

Besides all of the above she did commercial music writing such as dictation, re-writes, arranging and orchestrating.  She wrote original material for many night club performers including Eartha Kitt, Fay De Witt, Kim Corry and Bat'ya, a famous singer from Israel.  Ray Anthony recorded her song, "So I Said Yes", in his album, "That's Show Biz", and commissioned her to write material for his night club act.  Thru these artists her music has been heard not only in the States but in Canada, the Bahamas, England, France, Germany, Israel.

In 1961 Odette was elected to membership in The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.  She was also a life member of the AFM, the American Federation of Musicians, Local 47, Los Angeles, California.

Odette passed away in Hollywood, California on New Year's Day, 1984.

The above Biographical information was supplied by the Jackson County Historical Society in Maquoketa, Iowa, where there museum often has a display commemorating Odette's contributions to the entertainment industry.

 

mailto:blair@kinsleuth.com

1998-2007