Sunday, February 24, 2002

Grammys catch on to Clooney

Colleagues praise her talent, tenacity, warmth

        Rosemary Clooney never won a Grammy, the recording industry's most prestigious award, losing this year to Harry Connick Jr. But in one of the highlights of her illustrious career, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award in the 44th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 27, hailing a lifetime of song that started in the '40s at WLW Radio in Cincinnati. The Enquirer prepared this special tribute in recognition of that honor:

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Over a career spanning six decades, Rosemary Clooney has inhabited the worlds of pop and jazz equally well, with impeccable taste, ease and confidence.

[photo] Dante DiPaolo and Rosemary Clooney married in 1997. They'd been companions since 1973.
(Enquirer photo)
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        She's one of the greatest interpreters of American song, her colleagues say — of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Ellington, Rodgers, Hart, Mercer, Carmichael and Hammerstein. She starts with the lyric and instinctively knows how to convey the message — and how to inject a part of herself into a song.

        How do you explain a singer who, at age 73, still sounds so fresh?

        “She has the God-given natural ability to communicate through music,” says her longtime friend Michael Feinstein, who is competing against her for a Grammy in the traditional pop vocal album category. “It cannot be learned. She can communicate the essence of a lyric because of her understanding of what she's singing.”

        “She has great musical ears, great musical taste, great (timing). To find all of those qualities in one artist — that's what sets her apart,” her music director John Oddo says. ""There's Tony Bennett, and Frank (Sinatra) is not with us any more. But there aren't many left. She's very special.”

[photo] Rosemary and husband Jose Ferrer with their five children in the 1960s.
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        Mr. Bennett, her longtime pal and Grammy nemesis, calls her “a Bing Crosby singer. She was just a natural,” he said while performing at Riverbend last summer.

        “We had a show called Songs for Sale years ago with CBS,” he recalled. “In those days, I was really struggling, and I couldn't get over it. She'd walk into the studio, at just the last minute, she had a kind of photographic mind, and always sang natural. To this day, she sings that way.”

        Elsa Sule, former associate producer for the Ruth Lyons 50-50 Club and The Bob Braun Show, agrees.

        “I think she was born good,” she says. “Betty was, too.”

        Ms. Sule remembers when Ms. Clooney and her younger sister, Betty, auditioned as teen-agers to sing on WLW Radio in 1945.

        “They could harmonize; they could do anything,” she recalls. “I think at first the station was a little bit dubious about hiring them because they didn't play guitar. But as soon as they listened to them, they decided they didn't need to play guitar. They were just good.”

        Ms. Clooney has made a comeback from the brink of death more than once; today she's recovering from her latest speed bump: lung cancer surgery. She hopes to go home to Los Angeles from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota this week. Her oldest son, Miguel Ferrer, will accept the Lifetime Achievement Award for her on Wednesday.

        Approaching her 74th birthday in May, she can't hold a note as long as she once did, and her voice has dropped a few keys.

        “But you don't notice that at all,” says Mr. Oddo, who has been her music director, arranger and pianist for 18 years.

        “She knows how to get around all of that. When you hear her sing, you don't feel as if there's anything missing. She just knows how to sing that lyric and make it so believable, that it doesn't matter she's not holding that note.”

The Clooney sound

        Ms. Clooney's sound is unique, says trumpeter and former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen, because “when she sings a song, she makes it hers.”

        “I'll never forget the first time I heard her. I was living in New York City, a young kid, just trying to get started. I turned on the radio one day, and out comes this voice. I didn't recognize the name when they said it was Rosemary Clooney. But all I could think was, boy, she's going to be a big star. I could tell that she's got such a sound that's her own.”

        Coming out of the big-band era helped define that sound. She has a “big-time feel,” says her longtime drummer, John Von Ohlen, of Covington.

        “As soon as I start playing behind her, I notice it right away, in her rhythm, her voice. . . . She can get very hot rhythmically,” he says. “Being a drummer, I'm really attuned to that. She's got great rhythm — it's real big-time sounding.”

        A few months ago, they played a concert in Houston, and one tune took off like a rocket.

        “(The tempo) was about as up as you can play,” he says. “When she came in with the melody, I poured the coals on. She was right there with me. No problem. In fact, she was puttin' it right back at me.”

        Hers is an effortless sound, says Pat Linhart, musical theater faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

        “In the midst of the ease of sound, you totally forget any technical aspects,” she says. “You hear every word, and every word is totally interpreted.”

        She can draw you in with one phrase, or one word. Consider the novelty tune, “Come On-a My House,” Mr. Severinsen says.

        “If you give a good close listen to the inflection of her vocal quality, it has a little edge, a little buzz in the sound,” he says.

        “Teresa Brewer would have sung that song so cutsie-pie. But when Rosie sings it, it means, "Hey, come on-a my house. You might be surprised what you might find.' There's a promise of something special there.”

Sings with feeling

        Frank Sinatra taught her how to be “a definitive conduit,” Ms. Clooney told the Enquirer in 1998.

        “He told the story that the composer and the lyricist intended the listener to hear. And that's what I learned from him,” she said. “He inspired me, totally. I never told Bing Crosby that, because we were best friends!”

        “There's so much feeling in her singing,” says Mary Ellen Tanner, a friend who has won the Enquirer's Cammy Award for best jazz vocalist four times. “The writers of "It Never Entered My Mind' and so many others that she recorded would have to have been honored to the max that she would do that kind of performance.”

        Just as important as the expressiveness of a song, Cincinnati conductor Carmon DeLeone says, is Ms. Clooney's commitment to the original melody.

        “She was a favorite of composers such as Irving Berlin because they knew she would sing their songs the way they had written them,” he says. “She doesn't stray from the melody. In her simplicity is the beauty of her singing.”

        Ms. Clooney is a master of delivering standards — those gems of the American songbook, which, in the words of Mr. Bennett, “are not old-fashioned. They're just timeless.”

        “When you are a master at delivering a standard, in its simplest style and delivery, you guarantee yourself sustainability,” jazz singer Kathy Wade says.

        In 1998, Ms. Wade hired Ms. Clooney for her “Crown Jewels of Jazz” series in Ault Park. More than 10,000 people showed up and stayed for hours, despite drizzling rain.

        “She talks to the audience, which is something I think is important as a vocalist,” she says. Ms. Wade was moved by the singer's stories about the legends she had known, such as Billie Holiday.

        “The thing that I will always treasure is her story about their meeting and hanging out. Then she sang songs from her Billie Holiday album, Here's to my Lady,” she says. “Being able to bring that kind of storytelling to your performance is so wonderful.”

        Ms. Tanner sums it up: “You get a warmth and intimacy from Rosemary, that you don't always get from other singers, even when they're technically great.”

Jazz: Her second chance

        It's been 51 years since the smash hit “Come On-a My House,” a defining moment that made her a pop icon and Hollywood movie star.

        In the late '70s, Ms. Clooney re-invented herself — coming back from a failed marriage, a love affair, drug dependency and a terrifying mental breakdown. Concord Records, a jazz label, gave her a second chance.

        “The great, big-band and swing drummer, Jake Hanna, introduced her to Carl Jefferson, the head of Concord Records, back when she really was not considered a jazz singer,” drummer Mr. Von Ohlen recalls. “So she started singing with jazz players, in small group settings.”

        The albums became hits and sold well. Jazz, it seems, was her domain.

        “I think she did it because she enjoyed that, as she became older, and she said, gee I can't get up like a 25-year-old kid and sing this and that song, and try to get the next hit tune,” Mr. Severinsen says. “She saw jazz as her place to go.”

        It was hard work, but memorable because of how good she was from the beginning, Mr. Von Ohlen recalls.

        “She'd be standing up there, just swinging. We had hard-core arrangements behind her — it was really rompin',” he says.

        She's always a professional, her colleagues say.

        Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel invites her often, because not only is she a hometown favorite — she's a perfectionist.

        “If she thinks she's a little bit flat or sharp, she will correct it,” he says. “I remember doing our Christmas album. She insists it be perfect, or she won't release it. She's as pro. She wants it all just right.”

        “Jazz vocalists are hard to come by,” Ms. Wade says. “You have to come up with your own style. She's done that very well, and has been very lucky to combine all of it — the singing, the acting, jazz standards — and continue to be a voice.”

Connects with audience

        For her fans, the appeal is simpler: It's her earthy humor, her down-home charm.

        “Her nightclub appearances have the feel of family affairs at which she presides like a benign grandmother, blending songs and anecdotes into a rich personal history that keeps you hanging on every word,” the New York Times' Stephen Holden wrote, about her annual stint at Feinstein's at the Regency last April.

        “The first time she sang there was a great thrill for me, because she opened the club (in 1999),” Mr. Feinstein says. “I wanted to feature her as the first performer, because I knew it would give an identity to the club that would tell people what it was about.”

        Mr. Oddo remembers the decade he played with her in New York's Rainbow and Stars nightclub, now closed.

        “She would tell stories, because she always felt the intimacy of the room,” he says.

        Later, she bantered with crowds in bigger venues. In July 2000, with 10,000 in the Riverbend audience and several million television viewers watching live — Ms. Clooney blew a kiss to her hometown fans and exclaimed, “It's good to be home, let me tell you.” In an evening of extravaganza and spectacle, she communicated on a personal level.

        The person and the singer have become inseparable. Shortly after Ms. Clooney recovered from nearly dying of viral meningitis in 1998, the Enquirer asked her how she would like to be remembered someday.

        She was uncharacteristically quiet for a moment. Then she answered, “As a hard-working singer. And a good mother.”
        Singing legend Rosemary Clooney dies

Special Enquirer Tribute to Rosemary Clooney
(First published Feb. 24, 2002)
- Grammys catch on to Clooney
Clooney saved best film for last: 'White Christmas'
Rosie's career rose with television
Excerpt from Rosie's autobiography
Clooney compilation: A woman's picks
Clooney compilation: A man's picks

    1928: Born May 23 to Andrew and Frances Clooney, Maysville, Ky.
    1945: Rosemary, 17, and Betty, 14, audition at WLW-AM in Cincinnati and get their first job for $20 each a week.
    1946: Rosemary makes first solo recording, “I'm Sorry I Didn't Say I'm Sorry When I Made You Cry Last Night.”
    1947: Rosemary and Betty tour as vocalists with Tony Pastor's band.
    1949: Betty leaves the act; Rosemary heads to New York.
    1950: Rosemary appears on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, signs with Columbia Records, and becomes a regular with Tony Bennett on CBS' Songs for Sale TV show.
    1951: “Come On-a My House” sells 1 million copies and hits No. 1; meets future husband, actor Jose Ferrer, on a New York TV show.
    1952: “Half As Much” hits No. 1.
    1953: Maysville honors Rosemary with a parade for her movie debut in The Stars Are Singing; appears on cover of Time magazine (Feb. 23); marries Mr. Ferrer in Durant, Okla. (July 13).
    1954: “Hey There” and “This Ole House” hit No. 1 back-to-back; stars in White Christmas with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen.
    1955: “Mambo Italiano” hits No. 1; gives birth to first of five children (Miguel) in five years.
    1956: Debuts a weekly syndicated TV series, The Rosemary Clooney Show, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra; gives birth to Maria.
    1957: Moves to NBC for a weekly TV series, The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney, for one season; gives birth to Gabriel.
    1958: Teresa born.
    1960: Receives first Grammy nomination for best female vocal album (Clap Hands, Here Comes Rosie); gives birth to Rafael.
    1961: Divorce and reconciliation with Mr. Ferrer.
    1962: Sings at a political party for President John F. Kennedy, and strikes up friendship with his family.
    1967: Divorces Mr. Ferrer.
    1968: After Robert Kennedy's assassination, she suffers a nervous breakdown and goes into Mount Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles.
    1973: Reconnects with Dante DiPaolo, whom she had dated in 1953 before marrying Mr. Ferrer.
    1974: Begins her comeback on Cincinnati's Nick Clooney Show, hosted by her brother; appears with Bing Crosby at a benfit in Los Angeles.
    1975: Performs with Mr. Crosby on his last major tour before his death in 1977.
    1976: Sister Betty dies of an aneurysm.
    1977: Signs with the Concord Jazz label, making 24 albums in 21 years; writes her first autobiography, This for Remembrance.
    1982: CBS airs Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story, starring Sondra Locke, a TV movie based on her autobiography.
    1990: Presented a lifetime achievement award at the inaugural Cincinnati Broadcast Hall of Fame induction.
    1991: Makes Carnegie Hall concert debut.
    1993: Grammy nomination for Girl Singer.
    1994: Appears in two episodes of nephew George Clooney's new ER drama as an Alzheimer's patient, earning an Emmy nomination for best guest actress in a drama; also gets a Grammy nomination for Do You Miss New York?
    1995: A&E marks her 50th anniversary in show business with a 90-minute special.
    1996: Grammy nomination for her Demi-Centennial! album.
    1997: Marries Dante DiPaolo, her partner since 1973, in Maysville on Nov. 7; Grammy nomination for her Dedicated to Nelson (Riddle) album.
    1998: Spends three days in a coma with a near-fatal bout of viral meningitis; Grammy nomination for her Mothers and Daughters album.
    1999: Publishes her second autography, Girl Singer: An Autobiography (Doubleday; $24.95); awarded the first Michael W. Bany Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1999 Cammy Awards; honored by Maysville with the first Rosemary Clooney Music Festival; issued her 1956 Blue Rose album with Duke Ellington on CD.
    2000: Stars in national July 4 PBS telecast from Riverbend with Doc Severinsen, Danny Glover, Tom Wopat and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.
    2001: Learns she will receive the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2002; named one of 12 inaugural inductees of the new Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Renfro Valley; profiled by A&E Biography.
    2002: Has surgery to remove cancer from her left lung at the Mayo Clinic; Grammy nomination for Sentimental Journey — The Girl Singer And Her New Big Band.
    “My favorite has to be "Too Young,' which I am actually considering doing a bit of a demo remake of here at my home studio. Just very sincere, good music.”
Eliot Sloan,Blessid Union of Souls
   “ "White Christmas,' which she recorded with us. When she sings, it's almost like she tells a story. She has impeccable pitch, and her enunciation — there's no one better, recording-wise, as far as enunciation.”
— Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops conductor
   “ "Thanks for the Memory.' At the Bob Hope Desert Classic ball in Palm Springs this year, there was a tape of Bob's slides shown. The background music was Rosemary Clooney's "Thanks for the Memory.' She's very much a part of all that.”
— Ward Grant, Bob Hope's agent
   “My favorite song of Rosemary Clooney's is "Tenderly,' which beautifully shows the way Rosemary sings and always has — like Bing Crosby. Rosemary is a natural, and that's why every song she sings is perfect.”
— Tony Bennett
   “ "I'll Be Around,' which she did in '51. She recorded it the day she was supposed to record "Come On-a My House.' The harpsichord didn't arrive; they had musicians on hand, and they all knew "I'll Be Around,' so they did what you call a head arrangement — which means no music. It was not a pop confection of the time. It's wise beyond its years.”
— Michael Feinstein
   “ "(Our) Love is Here to Stay' by George and Ira Gershwin. I think her work with Michael Feinstein keeps that music alive. She understands how the delivery should go, and that's so important. People are always going to go back to the lyric — even if it's rap music, even it it's heavy metal. And the delivery of that lyric.”
— singer Kathy Wade
   “There was a long period, about seven years, that she went with (bandleader) Nelson Riddle. During the time they were in love, he was writing for her. He wrote one album for her that was just a killer, and one tune on there, "How Will I Remember You?' just sends you to the moon. She would cry while he was conducting it. When I heard it, I felt the same way.”
— drummer John Von Ohlen
   “I love "It Never Entered My Mind.' It was written by Rodgers and Hart, and it's on the album, Rosemary Clooney Sings Ballads. I love the tune, but I love her interpretation of it. It's such a great lyric, and I really think that no one could have done it better.”
— jazz vocalist Mary Ellen Tanner
   “ "Sentimental Journey' would be the one, I guess because it's sentimental, and, from that album (Sentimental Journey), the one I really like. It was back to her big-band roots; that's what she wanted to do. Every once in a while she goes back to that, because that's really where she came from.”
John Oddo, Ms. Clooney's musical director since 1983
   “If you're going to force me to pick one tune, it's "How About You,' with the Hi-Lo's, on the album Ring Around Rosie (1957). I used to watch her television show when she featured the Hi-Lo's. In terms of female singers, it's only Rosemary Clooney.”
— Carmon DeLeone, conductor
   “The one that comes to my mind is "Hey There.' She always sounds like she really means it. She's obviously connected to the song, once she's singing it.”
   — Trumpeter Doc Severinsen
   “My personal favorites from this period are Rosemary Clooney Sings the Lyrics of Ira Gershwin and Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Cole Porter. Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and cornetist Warren Vache provide straight-ahead jazz, complimenting Ms. Clooney's interpretation of some of the most clever lyrics ever written.”
   — John Rogers, former Concord Jazz publicist

    1. Rosemary Clooney was in which movie with Bob Hope?
    2. When Rosemary Clooney had five children in five years, Mr. Hope called it what?
    3. What unusual instrument is used to accompany Ms. Clooney in “Come On-a My House”?
    4. True or False: When she started out, she couldn't read a note of music.
    5. What was the first magazine to feature Rosemary Clooney on the cover?
    6. True or False: Before she hit the big time, Rosemary Clooney made albums for children.
   Answers: 1. Here Come the Girls (1953) 2. “Vatican Roulette” 3. Harpsichord 4. True 5. Pathfinder, Dec. 12, 1951. The cover story was “Gold in Young Voices.” 6. True.