Hey there, she's on a high-flying cloud

by Christina Wiser - Courier-Post Staff - December 23, 1990
Read Christina's Tribute to Rosemary - July 2, 2002

The Rosemary Clooney Christmas Party had yet to swing into Yuletide songs Wednesday night when its star launched into an irreverent version of an old hit: "Hey there/youwith the stars/in your eyes."

The mostly middle-age audience at Valley Forge Music Fair went limp with nostalgia.

Not the singer.

When the past escapes Clooney's rich voicebox these days, it has bounce in its step.

Fans may project a longing for the past, and Clooney has been around long enough to expect that. But she doesn't sing her old songs with a heavy heart.

"It's a matter of years and experience," she explained in a rich timbre that lends itself to a song like a blanket against the cold.

She was on the phone from Minneapolis, a week before her Music Fair engagement.

"You understand more if you've lived it. It sometimes makes it hard to sing certain songs, especially since I've reached the age where a lot of people in my lifetime who were older are dying. But I have to get past it."

At 62, Clooney has never sounded better. Life magazine just named her one of the great living popular singers, with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

("If I didn't feel I belonged there, I'm not going to tell anyone," she said.)

Her fourteen albums on the Concord label are jazz perennials, and have earned her a following of younger fans who only knew Rosemary Clooney from her Coronet paper commercials.

If she found success with novelty songs such as "Come On-a My House" and "Mambo Italiano," Clooney earned acceptance with the songs of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Johnny Mercer. She has interrupted their work, among that of other major composers, on her Concord albums.

She is lauded for a clarity of lyric, often charmingly playful, always discreetly sexy.


She has been dubbed a "method singer" for the way she usesher voice to "act" a lyric. One critic said her style reminded him of summer in the country, "with striped awnings and fresh green lawns."

As for Clooney, "I really feel I've had a resurgence. When you've had success very young, as I did, that's your mainstay. But I also have a recording contract keeping me out there. And I get a chance to do things I didn't get to do the first time around."

By her own admission, the Clooney voice has become cluttered by age, weight gain, and frequent bronchitis.

"I've done enough damage to make it interesting," she said. "If I smile, that's what I think comes through in the music. What my voice sounds like, when I like it best, is an honest emotion.

"Age and use have deepened it, which I like. There's that certain purity I had in the old days I lost, which is a tradeoff."

Clooney is happy to trade off the past for the present. After two failed marriages to Jose Ferrer, five children in five years, a crashing breakdown and years of therapy, serenity has settled in.

"Hey There," for one, doesn't hold fond memories. She was days from delivering her first child -- "Twin Peaks" actor Miguel Ferrer -- when recording boss Mitch Miller told her she had to record the song. Its flip side was "This Ole House."

"I seriously doubted either song was going anywhere," she wrote in her 1977 autobiography, "This For Remembrance."

And Clooney hated what she called the cheap double entendres in "Come on-a My House."

It was her biggest hit.

Ask her about the "good old days," when she was told what to sing and when, and Clooney refers to it as "bull----."

Now is what she likes.

"I think I'[m] having the time of my life. I can do as little or as much as I want. I'm really happy."

She has been reunited for years with Dante DiPa[o]lo, a singer and dancer she dated in the early '50s. Years of therapy have taught her to make less demands on herself, to smell the roses.

Besides her annual Christmas show, which features daughter-in-law Debby Boone and Boone's four children, Clooney does most of her singing in the recording studio.

Her next album will be a collection of World War II songs called "For the Duration."

"I'll keep working as long as I live," she said in February's Lear's magazine.

"Singing has taken on the feeling of joy that I had when I started, when my only responsibility was to sing well.

"It's even better now, because the younger musicians I work with are so taleneted and caring. I can even pick the songs. Nobody ever asked me that before."

"I've been married, and I've beena mother for an awfully long time," she said recently. "But I was always a singer."