Rosemary Clooney Biography

23 May 1928, Maysville, Kentucky, USA, d. 29 June 2002, Beverly Hills, California, USA. Although her heyday was back in the 50s, this popular singer and actress remained close to the peak of her powers well into the 90s. Rosemary and her sister Betty sang at political rallies in support of their paternal grandfather. When Rosemary was 13 the Clooney children moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and appeared on radio station WLW. In 1945 they auditioned successfully for tenor saxophonist Tony Pastor and joined his band as featured vocalists, travelling the country doing mainly one-night shows. Rosemary made her first solo record in 1946 with ‘I’m Sorry I Didn’t Say I’m Sorry When I Made You Cry Last Night’. After around three years of touring, Betty quit, and Rosemary stayed on as a soloist with the band. She signed for Columbia Records in 1950 and had some success with children’s songs such as ‘Me And My Teddy Bear’ and ‘Little Johnny Chickadee’, before coming under the influence of A&R manager Mitch Miller, who had a penchant for folksy, novelty dialect songs. In 1951 Clooney’s warm, husky melodious voice registered well on minor hits, ‘You’re Just In Love’, a duet with Guy Mitchell, and ‘Beautiful Brown Eyes’. Later that year she topped the US chart with ‘Come On-A My House’ from the off-Broadway musical The Son, with a catchy harpsichord accompaniment by Stan Freeman. During the next four years Clooney had a string of US hits including ‘Tenderly’, which became her theme tune, ‘Half As Much’ (number 1), ‘Botcha-Me’, ‘Too Old To Cut The Mustard’ (a duet with Marlene Dietrich), ‘The Night Before Christmas Song’ (with Gene Autry), ‘Hey There’ and ‘This Ole House’ (both number 1 hits), and ‘Mambo Italiano’. UK hits included ‘Man’, with the b-side, ‘Woman’, sung by her then husband, actor/producer/director José Ferrer, and the novelty, ‘Where Will The Dimple Be’. Her last singles hit was ‘Mangos’, in 1957. Her own US television series regularly featured close harmony vocal group the Hi-Lo’s, leading to their communal album Ring Around Rosie.

Clooney’s film career started in 1953 with Here Come The Girls with Bob Hope and The Stars Are Singing, and was followed by three films the next year, including Red Garters with Guy Mitchell and the Sigmund Romberg biopic, Deep In My Heart, in which she sang ‘Mr And Mrs’ with Ferrer. In the same year she teamed with Bing Crosby in White Christmas. Highly compatible, with friendly, easy-going styles, their professional association was to last until Crosby died, and included, in 1958, the highly regarded album Fancy Meeting You Here, a musical travelogue with special material by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, arranged and conducted by Billy May. Semi-retired in the 60s, Clooney’s psychiatric problems were chronicled in her autobiography, This For Remembrance, later dramatized on television as Escape From Madness. After four years of therapy, she returned to performing in 1972 at Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens.

Clooney’s later career was jazz-based, and included a series of tributes to the ‘great’ songwriters such as Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington, released on the Concord Jazz label. In time, she was recognised as one of America’s finest jazz-based vocalists. In 1991, Clooney gave an ‘assured performance’ in concert at Carnegie Hall, and duetted with her special guest artist, Linda Ronstadt. Her 1998 album, A Seventieth Birthday Celebration, with guest stars k.d. lang and Ronstadt, contained some of the best material from the Concord Jazz years (two new selections, ‘Secret Of Life’ and ‘Love Is Here To Stay’, opened and closed the album). She also made occasional appearances in the popular US medical drama ER, which also featured her nephew George Clooney. Late in 1999, Clooney published the second volume of her memoirs, and received excellent reviews when she became the first star to appear at Michael Feinstein’s new supper club at New York’s Regency Hotel. Clooney continued to play US clubs into the new millennium, including her much appreciated annual stint at the Rainbow & Stars in New York. In January 2002 she underwent surgery for lung cancer. She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the following month’s Grammys, but died only a few months later.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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