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
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.
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".
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