George Clooney’s Aunt Rosie
Today I have a handful of songs performed by the magnificent Rosemary Clooney. I can think of no singer who put as much depth of meaning into her singing as she. And her talent matured greatly with age. Even though her voice wasn’t quite as wonderful in later life as it was earlier, her expressiveness grew with each passing year.
She was born in Maysville, Kentucky, about 45 miles up the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Her father was a drunk, so her parents separated, and she and her two siblings were constantly moving back and forth between her parents.
She was a “girl singer” for a big band until 1949, when she went solo. As I noted yesterday, she hit it big with “Come On-a My House” in 1951.
In 1953 she married José Ferrer; she had five children, the eldest of whom was the television actor Miguel Ferrer. In 1954, together with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen, she starred in the movie White Christmas. In later years, Clooney would often appear with Crosby on television, as in the 1957 special The Edsel Show, and the two friends made a concert tour of Ireland together. Crosby opined that Clooney was “the best in the business.” You can see why in this clip from “White Christmas”:
In 1956, she starred in her own half-hour TV musical variety series, “The Rosemary Clooney Show.” The program featured the Hi-Lo’s, a (now-forgotten) singing group, and Nelson Riddle‘s orchestra. Here she sings “Blues in the Night” from that show:
The next years were relatively successful ones, though she moved from record company to record company with dizzying alacrity, and in the 1960s, rock and roll’s rise in popularity marginalized Clooney’s career. Her marriage to Ferrer failed, and a brief affair with Nelson Riddle left her brokenhearted. Then, in 1968, while campaigning for Robert Kennedy, Clooney stood a only few feet from where he was assassinated. She suffered a nervous breakdown onstage in Reno, Nevada (exacerbated by serious drug problems), and was hospitalized. As she slowly recovered, Clooney focused on the importance of singing.
Her comeback required intense dedication as she virtually had to start her career all over again, taking humble gigs and relying on the help of old friends. In 1975, Bing Crosby invited her to tour with him. Then, in 1977, she joined former 1950s singing stars — Margaret Whiting, Rose Marie, and Helen O’Connell — to create “4 Girls 4.” It was a true phenomenon, one of the most surprising and unconventional show business successes of the1970s and ’80s. It brought staggering new success to a quartet of show business veterans who were far from their commercial peak. According to Bill Loeb, who at one time or another had managed most of their careers,
The 4 Girls 4 created a whole new career for all four of them. It played all of the big theaters back east, on the coast and the midwest. It did phenomenal business. They were booked a year in advance. It was a tremendous success. We’re talking big theaters in the round and concert halls, all the big theaters, where all of the biggest performers in the business were performing. We were playing in the top places in the country.
The act continued, with surprising strength, for twelve years.
Here, in a televised 1981 concert (I don’t know if it’s from the 1981 North Sea Jazz Festival, or if it’s the one-hour truncated version of “4 Girls 4” that was shown on CBS) is of my favorites, “Hey There”:
(Of course, around this time Clooney was also the face of Coronet paper towels on TV commercials, for which she sang a memorable jingle that goes, “Extra value is what you get, when you buy Coro-net.” Apparently it made pretty good money.)
In a concert from the late 1980s, “Sophisticated Lady:”
And from 1993, at the 40th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival, held in a tent on the lawn of the White House — “Our Love is Here to Stay”:
Amazing. Just amazing.
In 1994, as a favor to her nephew George, she guest-starred on the medical drama ER, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award.
A longtime smoker, Rosemary Clooney was diagnosed with lung cancer at the end of 2001, and despite surgery died six months later at her home in Beverly Hills. George Clooney served as a pallbearer at her funeral, which was attended by numerous luminaries including Al Pacino.
I’ll leave you with her 1981 performance of “But Not for Me”: