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Happy Birthday, Rosemary Clooney, Jazz and Pop Singer

May 23, 2010
by findingDulcinea Staff
Rosemary Clooney’s smooth, rich voice and captivating good looks catapulted the Kentucky-born singer to the top of the charts and to on-screen fame in films such as “White Christmas.” A hectic career and family life later gave way to a debilitating bout with prescription drugs, but Clooney emerged on a clear note, and collected awards and accolades for her music until her death in 2002.

Rosemary Clooney’s Childhood

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Rosemary Clooney was born on May 23, 1928, in Maysville, Kentucky. Her family life was not a steady one; Rosemary and her younger siblings Betty and Nick (the father of George Clooney) were often shuttled between relatives.

When Rosemary was a young teenager, her mother, who often traveled for work, moved to California with Nick, leaving Rosemary and her sister alone with their alcoholic father, who abandoned the family when Rosemary was 17. Rosemary and Betty scraped together money returning soda bottles until they were offered a job singing for a Cincinnati radio station.

The Clooney sisters toured with an orchestra for a few years. At age 21, Rosemary decided to strike out on her own and headed to New York; there she caught the attention of Columbia Records.

Clooney’s Singing and Acting Career

Clooney's first hit was “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” then Columbia asked her to sing what would become one of her biggest hits, “Come On-A My House.” She initially did not want to sing the song, but Columbia insisted and she complied. Clooney then recorded a few more hits including “Mambo Italiano.”

Time, in a 1953 cover story, wrote, “The Clooney voice is known to the trade as both ‘barrelhouse’ and blue, i.e., robust and fresh, with an undercurrent of seductiveness. It can spin out a slow tune with almost cello-like evenness, or take on a raucous bite in a fast rhythm. In a melancholy mood, it has a cinnamon flavor that tends to remind fans of happier days gone by—or soon to come.”

She also found success on the big and small screen, starring opposite Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in the 1954 holiday classic “White Christmas,” and getting her own television show in 1956. It was during this time that she experimented in various musical genres, collaborating with Hank Williams, Duke Ellington and others.

However, she wasn’t quite as fortunate in her personal life. Despite a dalliance with dancer Dante DiPaolo, Rosemary married actor Jose Ferrer in 1953. The couple had five children, then divorced and remarried until a final split in 1967. After her third child was born, Rosemary began to abuse prescription medication.

In 1968, she was campaigning for her friend Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles when he was gunned down a few yards from her. Soon after, she began acting erratically during performances; she later experienced a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. Rosemary's recovery from her breakdown included mental help in the form of therapy, a move to get physically healthy by losing the weight she gained while in recovery,

She also worked on rebuilding her career with the help of Bing Crosby. Rosemary joined Crosby on his last tour in the mid-1970s, and appeared in his 50th anniversary show. Clooney later joined an all female ensemble “Four Girls Four.”

The Rest of the Story

A lifelong smoker, Rosemary Clooney lost a battle with lung cancer on June 29, 2002, in Beverly Hills, California. Her obituary in the New York Times stated that “she sang with so much assuredness, simplicity and honesty that these elements became her trademark and endeared her to audiences and critics alike.”

Aside from her musical legacy, Rosemary founded the Betty Clooney Foundation in Long Beach, California, as a tribute to her sister, who died of a brain aneurysm. She also left the Rosemary Clooney House in her home state of Kentucky and an annual music festival.
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