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Two Races, One Lifelong Friendship article |
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Blanchie Mae's favorite Rosemary song was Tenderly.....
The evening breeze caressed the trees tenderly;The trembling trees embraced the breeze tenderly
Then you and I came wandering by and lost in a sigh were we
The shore was kissed by sea and mist tenderly; I can´t forget how two hearts met breathlessly
Your arms opened wide and closed me inside, You took my lips, you took my love so tenderly

Blanche Mae Chambers, 84, of Lee Street died Sunday, January 11, 2009 at the Meadowview Regional Medical Center. Miss Chambers was a member of the Church of the Nativity and worked for the Nativity Montessori School and formerly with the New Central Hotel and the Bus Station. She had a great love for God and a spiritual desire to serve him, the church and children. She was born in Maysville on February 3, 1924 the daughter of the late Lizzie Smith and Gilbert Chambers. Blanche was well known for her service to the community and as a lifelong friend of Rosemary Clooney. She was a graduate of the John G. Fee High School and was awarded the Maysville-Mason County NAACP Keeper of the Flame award in 2007. She is survived by her sister Thelma “Pud” Lang and her brother George Chambers, both of Maysville and several nieces and nephews. Funeral services for Blanche Chambers will be held at the Church of the Nativity at 11:00 AM Saturday, January 17, 2009 with Rev. Michael Henderson officiating. Burial will be in the Maysville Cemetery. Visitation will be held Friday from 6 to 8 PM at the Knox and Brothers Funeral Home. Memorials may be made to the Church of the Nativity or the Nativity Montessori School, 31 E. Third Street, Maysville, KY 41056

Sign Guestbook and View Tributes for Blanchie Mae at Knox and Brothers Funeral Home Website

Ledger-Independent Article

Blanche Chambers dies at 84; was close friend of Rosemary Clooney

Sunday, January 11, 2009 7:40 PM EST

Blanche with George ClooneyMAYSVILLE -- Blanche Chambers, the close childhood friend of Rosemary Clooney whose warm face smiles out from Maysville's waterfront mural, died Sunday at the age of 84, members of her family have confirmed.

Known for her service to the community around her and unwavering faith in her religion, Chambers leaves behind countless friends and admirers in the city where she lived all of her life.

"Most people in Maysville knew her. She was a very special person," said Mary "Rosebud" Dudley, who graduated from the all-black John Fee High School with Chambers in 1944 and has considered "Blanchie" a close friend since they were children.

Born in 1924, Chambers grew up on Pfister Avenue (behind the location of the new courthouse) with her parents, Lizzie Smith and Gilbert Chambers, and brothers and sisters.

Clooney, one of the most popular singers of all time, was another of Chambers' dearest friends and newspaper articles about their youth describe times when the pair would give impromptu performances for the spare change of passers-by, Clooney singing and Chambers tap-dancing to the melody on the Maysville sidewalk.

The two were like sisters and remained life-long friends, despite their different races and the bigotry that was prevalent in the late 1930s and 1940s. When Clooney's classic "The Stars are Singing" premiered at the Russell Theatre in 1953, Clooney insisted that Chambers be a part of the festivities marking the event.

A mural on Maysville's floodwall that was unveiled in 2007 displays Chambers' striking image, her seated in a convertible with Clooney, as the pair rode through town during a parade honoring Clooney and the 1953 movie premiere.

While Clooney went on to be one of the world's most recognized performers, Chambers resisted the temptation of stardom (including Clooney's calls to join her on stage) and instead stayed in Maysville to serve a higher calling -- her God.


"She was a very spiritual woman," Dudley said. "Anytime I would visit Blanche, she had her Bible. She read it morning, noon and night."

Chambers was a member of the Church of the Nativity.

She also had a great love for children and worked for the Nativity Montessori School in Maysville doing whatever she could, according to Samantha Gilbert, her great-niece.

"She was very spiritual, and she liked working with kids," Gilbert said.

Blanchie Mae and DanteChambers participated in countless community events and was awarded the Maysville-Mason County NAACP Keeper of the Flame award in 2007.

Although Dudley is certain that her rock-solid faith leaves Chambers "in good hands," family members and friends will still miss her dearly, Gilbert said.

"She was my great-aunt, so I always looked up to her," said Gilbert. "She was very special."

Chambers is survived by one sister, Thelma 'Pud' Lang, and one half-brother, George Chambers. In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by six siblings, Alvin Williams, Gene Beckett, Raymond Williams, James Estil Williams and Mary Irene Murphy.

Funeral and burial arrangements were not available by publication deadline. Knox and Brothers Funeral Home in Maysville is in charge of arrangements.





Blanchie Mae during an interview for The Rosemary Clooney Palladium, going through her memorabilia

Blanchie Mae showing off all the "Rosemary spots" in Maysville, KY

Blanchie Mae giving a tour of the Russell Theatre a number of years ago.

Blanchie Mae getting a kiss on the forehead from Michael Feinstein

Debby Boone, Kathryn Crosby, Blanchie Mae, and Monsita and Terry Botwick at the Rosemary Clooney Music Festival

Rosemary's little sister Gail, Blanchie Mae and Dante

Blanchie Mae, Mrs. Bing (Kathryn) Crosby, and Bob DeFlores at Caproni's in Maysville

Blanchie Mae speaking at the Grand Opening of The Rosemary Clooney House

Blanchie Mae with Dante after the ribbon cutting at The Rosemary Clooney House

Two races, one lifelong friendship
Writer: Amy Wilson

9/30/2005 Lexington Herald-Leader

MAYSVILLE - When they were little, they used to run up and down Third Street's sidewalks, swing past the Russell Theater and round the corner onto Market Street. At the turn, a breeze would come up from the Ohio River, just a block away. There, they'd sometimes give their version of a Broadway show, with Blanchie Mae tapping and Rosie singing and people watching. If enough people saw fit to contribute to a good cause, the twosome gathered enough cash to hoof it down to the Delight and buy two 15-cent coneys. Or, if it was summer, they'd go to the Traxel or the Elite and get ice cream.

"Rosemary loved vanilla. I liked chocolate," says Blanche Chambers of her friend Rosemary Clooney. "I could sit on the stool with her, nobody made anything of it.''

Least of all Rosemary or Blanchie Mae. Of course, a lot of America in the late 1930s and early '40s might have thought it wrong that the two girls saw so much of each other -- one being white and the other being black -- but people in Maysville did not notice, or if they did, they did not bring it up.

Blanche Chambers is 80 now. Rosemary Clooney died three years ago and is still remembered by millions as one of the finest female vocalists of her time. But once upon a time, in this town, they had each other, two ornery younger sisters, a world to think about and a lot to talk about though "there wasn't a whole lot we knew about," says Chambers, who still lives in Maysville.

The fame the dramatic pair must have talked about found Rosemary. And at every turn in their lives, Rosemary asked Blanchie Mae, as she called her, to come join her. Sometimes she even begged.

"I knew it was not a life for me."

So Blanche Chambers stayed firmly planted in Maysville "to serve the Lord," she said. And from that perch and posture, she would watch, with glorious selflessness, the rise, the ruin and the resurrection of her best friend, Rosemary Clooney.

You could call it a love story and not be wrong.

'Wave and yell back'

When they were children and the movie house segregated the audience, Rosemary simply went upstairs and sat with Blanche in the "colored section."

When Rosemary came back to town in early 1953 for the Russell Theater premiere of her first film, The Stars Are Singing, there was to be a parade. Rosemary wanted Blanche in the convertible with her. Some city dignitaries said no, and Rosemary said, "Then no parade." Blanche rode up front. When Rosemary asked her what she should do, since the people were waving and yelling at her from the sidewalks, Blanche answered back, "Wave and yell back."

When Blanche -- "Rosie and my mother were the only people on God's green earth who called me Blanchie Mae," she said -- attended the Kentucky State Fair with Rosemary in 1959, some frowned on that closeness. So Blanche convinced Rosemary to explain that Blanche was her maid.

"She didn't want to do it, but she did," Blanche said.

Every place Rosemary went, says Blanche, "she made sure I went with her." So there were thousands of postcards and quite a few phone calls over the years. "But we didn't have to talk all the time to stay friends."

'Always the same girl'

Blanche is protective of the friendship even now. She has no showy glass case with remembrances of Rosemary in her home; she has a large plain brown envelope for that. She will not discuss anything about their lives that Rosemary hasn't already mentioned in interviews or books.

She will not let anyone into that place in her heart where the two of them still live. She loved Rosemary until her death because "she was always the same girl," Blanche said.

Rosemary was the little blonde girl who answered the door on Market Street when 10-year-old Blanche knocked, delivering a gift from the proprietor of the New Central Hotel. Blanche's mom, Lizzie, was a maid at the New Central, which was just across the street from the house where Rosemary lived most of the time. The girls never attended the same schools or went to the same church, but all the other hours they were together. On Sundays, Rosie's grandfather would take the girls on the trolley and go down to the train station so they could watch the people and trains come and go.

It was that grandfather who had taken Rosemary aside early on and explained that Blanche's mother had never been allowed to have much education and that that was wrong.

Rosemary left Maysville at 17 and became a singing sensation who knew Sinatra, Crosby and Hope well. She lived an exciting life and one, by her own admission, of trying to please others until she could no longer do it. In 1968, after being married to an unfaithful Jose Ferrer and after watching Robert F. Kennedy be assassinated inches from her, she succumbed to prescription drug addiction and was placed in a mental institution.

Even from there -- and afterward when Rosemary sang again to international acclaim -- she would reach out for Blanche.

Blanche says she was probably the only person Rosie didn't have to please.

No wonder Rosie loved her so fiercely.