Rosemary Clooney

Clooney shares fascinating life, remarkable voice at Pops finale

By JEFFREY LEE PUCKETT The Courier-Journal
Reviewed March 4, 2001

There is a natural swing in Rosemary Clooney's voice, a saucy little rhythm that informs every word. There's a swagger too, an attitude that lets you know she's seen and heard a few things in her remarkable lifetime.

Clooney shared a bit of that life last night at the Louisville Palace, where she headlined the final show of the Bank One Louisville Pops concert series with the Louisville Orchestra.

Clooney, a native of Maysville, Ky., told stories of meeting Johnny Mercer, living next door to Ira Gershwin, and hanging out with Tony Bennett when both were struggling youngsters. Even Clooney's brother, American Movie Classics host Nick Clooney, made a surprise appearance to introduce her.

But the best thing Clooney shared was her intimate knowledge of the art of singing.

Time and again she breathed life into familiar lyrics, finding fresh meaning in classics such as ''In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning'' and ''It Never Entered My Mind.'' Those two songs were especially fine, featuring not only some of Clooney's most expressive singing, but gorgeous arrangements from her music director, John Oddo.

At 72, Clooney may not have the vocal authority to deliver the big finish, but she sure can caress a lyric. When a song needed power she delivered, as on ''We're In the Money,'' but Clooney was best when wrapping songs in silk and lace. A version of Bob Hope's signature song, ''Thanks For the Memory,'' performed with just piano, bass and drums, was riveting in its sweetness.

It wasn't the kind of show you rave about for weeks, but its inherent artistry was deeply gratifying. There aren't many singers like Clooney left, and anyone in love with the Great American Songbook -- as Bennett always refers to it, with capital letters -- needs to hear them now. Last night was a reminder that we're lucky to hear them at all.

Principal Pops conductor Bob Bernhardt opened the show in his typically jovial way. His theme was ''marches,'' because it's March, and he leaned heavily on movie music.

John Williams, a Pops perennial, was showcased by selections from the original ''Star Wars'' and ''The Phantom Menace.'' The ''Parade of the Charioteers,'' from ''Ben Hur,'' brought that movie's grand parade scene to vivid life.

The highlight was Schumann's Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54, Allegro affettuso. It featured pianist Xin-Xin Zeng, a 17-year-old junior from duPont Manual Magnet High School and winner of the Louisville Orchestra's Young Artist Competition. Although Zeng seemed a little hesitant at times, perhaps because it was the first time he had performed with an orchestra, his sensitivity and technique were strong.