Singing the Praises of Rosemary Clooney

by Michael Quintanilla, The Los Angeles Times, Oct 7, 1998

Everything came up Rosie and everyone rose to their feet (at least twice) Monday night to pay loving tribute to legendary songstress Rosemary Clooney--the woman who smiles when she sings "because honey, you can hear it in your voice."

And what a voice.

Clooney--and her voice--were celebrated by more than 1,200 guests at the star-studded gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. There, Michael Feinstein serenaded his friend with a new song, "A Song About You," which he co-wrote with Marilyn and Alan Bergman.

Clooney, 70, who received the Society of Singers' prestigious Ella Lifetime Achievement Award--named for Ella Fitzgerald--sat at a long table covered with roses, where she was visited throughout the evening by friends, among them Barry Manilow, Bette Midler and k.d. lang, who recorded a song with Clooney last year.

By Clooney's side was husband Dante DiPaolo, whom she married almost a year ago after 25 years of, as she put it, "being roommates. All the grandchildren are happy that it's legitimate at last."

Also joining her at the celebration were her kids by Jose Ferrer: Miguel, Rafael, Maria and Gabriel Ferrer (who is married to Debby Boone) and Monsita Botwick; brother Nick Clooney and his son, George, of television's "ER," who presented his aunt with the Ella crystal award.

The black-tie gala, chaired by Ginny Mancini and Jeanne Hazard, attracted several Hollywood legends: Dolores and Bob Hope, Robert Stack, Janet Leigh, Anne Jeffries, Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin, Dick Clark, Betty White, Pat Boone, George Chakiris, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows and others.

The event raised more than $100,000 for the Society of Singers, founded 14 years ago with a mission to provide immediate financial assistance to professional singers in need.

With her name spelled out in roses above an orchestra--conducted by Ray Charles--on the stage and two screens on either side to show movie and television clips, guests took a stroll down memory lane with their beloved Rosie.

During the evening, several singers sang melodies from a bygone era. Many of the songs were popularized by Clooney, who was described throughout the evening as a singer's singer.

With Charles conducting the orchestra, Joe Williams crooned "Love You Madly." Linda Ronstadt sang "Lush Life." Diana Krall mesmerized all with "Peel Me a Grape." Johnny Mathis--his voice still like buttah--melted hearts with "It Could Happen to You." And Dolores Hope--shimmering in diamonds--brought the house down with "Come Rain or Come Shine." Also singing praises to Clooney were Patti Page, Manilow, Debby Boone, John Raitt, Dave Frishberg, Juliana DeGiacomo, Beverly D'Angelo and the SOS Choir led by Earl Brown.

But the evening belonged to Rosie, who was introduced by her nephew George at evening's end--the highlight of the show.

"My aunt has had a pretty amazing year," George Clooney said. "She celebrated 50 years in show business this year and she scared the hell out of us with a bout of meningitis. She married a guy she had been dating for 25 years. I sent her a note and said, 'What's the hurry? You should check him out.' She sent me a note, joking: 'I'm pregnant.' My aunt's a class act and the most talented singer I've ever seen."

Rosemary Clooney was clearly moved by all the adulation, the ovations, the songs.

In an earlier interview, she talked about the people in her life who matter the most: her children, grandchildren and friends, "people who are all here, and who in one way or another are associated with me in a very wonderful way."

And, of course, there's music.

"I'll keep on singing as long as I can stagger to the microphone. I'll be here as long as I can stand. And if I can't stand, I'll sit and sing."

And sing she did as she was escorted onto the stage as the SOS Choir softly sang "Tenderly," Clooney's signature song. Then she broke into "Our Love Is Here to Stay."

And, as always, she sang with a smile on her face.

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