Catherine Donavon Sings the
Rosemary Clooney Songbook
Completing six decades as one of America’s most beloved entertainers, Rosemary Clooney garnered numerous awards and may be best recognized for her starring role with Bing Crosby in “White Christmas.” The Wall StreetJournal called this Girl Singer a pop icon spoken in the same breath as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
Rosemary Clooney was born May 23, 1928 in Maysville, Kentucky. She was the oldest of three children; Rosemary, sister Betty and brother Nick- who is actor George Clooney’s father.
When Rosemary was 15, her mother and brother Nick moved to California. Rosemary and Betty remained with their father. Joseph Clooney tried to care for his daughters- working steadily at a defense plant, but he left one night to celebrate the end of World War II- taking the household money with him – and never returned.
Rosemary and Betty were left to fend for themselves. The phone was disconnected, the utilities were about to be turned off and the rent was long overdue. Rosemary and Betty- calling themselves the Clooney Sisters- won an open audition at Cincinnati radio station WLW. The girls were so impressive; they were hired for a regular late-night spot at $20.00 per week- each.
The radio gig brought the Clooney Sisters to the attention of band leader Tony Pastor- who happened to be passing through Cincinnati in 1945 and heard the girls on the radio. The Clooney Sisters joined Pastor’s orchestra and toured as featured singers until 1948.
In 1949, at age 21, Rosemary headed for New York to expand her professional career. Rosemary’s arrival in New York was perfectly timed with the rage for orchestra-backed singers. By then, ‘girl singers’ as they came to be known (Kay Starr, Doris Day and Peggy Lee) were all under contract to Columbia Records… Rosemary didn’t waste anytime in New York… and soon became Columbia Records’ newest contract recording artist.
In 1951 Rosemary recorded “Come-On-A-My-House.” At first, Rosemary was highly skeptical- insisting the song was not her kind of material. Much to her surprise, the song was an immediate and enormous success, topping the charts and became Rosemary’s first gold record. “Come-On-A-My-House” made Rosemary Clooney a star… a household name, and she became known- from that time on- simply as “Rosie.”
During the next two years, Rosemary had six more hits including “Hey There” which sold upwards of three million copies. In 1953 she landed on the cover of Time Magazine. Throughout the 1950s, she rounded out her celebrity with a successful movie career, her own television show and marriage to Academy award winning actor, Jose Ferrer.
Married in 1953, the Ferrer’s moved into a glamorous Beverly Hills home once owned by George Gershwin- and entertained with lavish poolside parties attended by the toast of Hollywood.
Between 1955 and 1960, Rosie had five children with Ferrer: Miguel, Maria, Gabriel, Monsita, and Rafael.
Rosie began to feel the strain of stardom and her relentlessly hectic schedule. The pressure of raising five children while pursuing careers as a television, movie and radio star, coupled with the deteriorating state of her marriage soon took its toll. Clooney developed an addiction to tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
For Clooney, the world came crashing down in 1968. She was standing only a few yards away from her close friend Robert Kennedy- then campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination- when he was assassinated in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel.
The tragedy, compounded with her drug addiction, triggered a public mental collapse. At a Reno engagement, she cursed at her audience and stalked off the stage. She later called a press conference and sobbed incoherently. When a doctor was summoned, she fled and was found driving on the wrong side of a dangerous mountain road. Shortly thereafter, she admitted herself to the psychiatric ward at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
She worked when she could… at Holiday Inns and other small hotels, made television commercials. Her ‘comeback’ required intense dedication and some help from her old friends.
In 1976 Bing Crosby asked Rosie to join him on his 50th Anniversary Tour. It would be Crosby’s final tour and Rosemary’s comeback event. The highlight of the show came when Clooney joined Bing in the duet, “On A Slow Boat to China.”
In 1977 she joined other former 1950s singing stars Margaret Whiting, Rose Marie and Helen O’Connell to create “Four Girls Four.” After 6 successful years of touring with this show, Rosemary again headed out on her own.
She built her second professional career singing compositions written by Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, Harold Arlen and Irving Berlin. This body or work clearly established her as one of the greatest interpreters of American songs.
Beginning in 1977, she recorded an album a year for Concord Records, which continued until her death. This made her something of an anomaly, because most of her generation of singers had long since stopped recording by then.
As her top-selling jazz albums indicated, Clooney was able to mesmerize audiences with her warmth, depth of feeling, honesty and unsurpassed craft.
In 1995 she won the ASCAP Pied Piper Award. The inscription on the award succinctly sums up her career, “Rosemary Clooney: An American Treasure and one of the best friends a song ever had.”
She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
A long-time 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 California.
Best Known Songs Botch-a-Me Come On-a My House (#1 on the Billboard chart, 1951) Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) From This Moment On Half As Much (#1 on the Billboard Chart 1952) Hey There (#1 on the Billboard Chart 1954) Mambo Italiano Blue Skies You’re Just in Love (duet with Guy Mitchell) Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ Sophisticated Lady Sisters (from the movie “White Christmas”) In the Cool, Cool of the Evening Tenderly Mangos Memories of You This Ole House (#1 on the Billboard chart, 1954) You’ll Never Know Sway Suzy Snowflake
CATHERINE DONAVON: Catherine Donavon, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, recognized her love of music and gift for singing at an early age. Her first memories are of finding music stations on the radio and memorizing the songs she heard. Her first idol and role model was Dorothy Collins, a star on YOUR HIT PARADE.
She started piano lessons at 4 and voice training at 11. She began performing at school functions in grade school and in high school she also began to develop acting skills. A classically trained mezzo-soprano, Catherine loves all types of music and is a proficient jazz stylist and Broady-style-belter.
Throughout her lifetime, Catherine has performed in a variety of musical and theatrical arenas and counts versatility as one of her chief assets. She has sung in nightclubs and cabarets, fronted rock and R&B bands, acted in dozens of theatrical productions- both musical and legitimate, directed many plays and musicals, done commercial film work and recorded a CD of some of her favorite show tunes and Standards SHOW BLUE.
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