Friends, family share warm memories


Staff Writer - Maysville's Ledger-Independent

Still reeling from the loss, friends and family shared warm memories of singing icon Rosemary Clooney who died Saturday at her California home from lung cancer.

Her beautiful voice and soulful interpretation of songs made the Maysville-born Clooney a mega star, but she never forgot her roots or old friends.

Clooney, 74, began her career on the streets of Maysville and brought the premiere of her first movie, “The Stars are Singing,” to the Russell Theater in 1953 at the height of the first phase of her decades-long career.

“I used to sing for nothin’ on these street corners. Now, all these years later, I’m doing the same damned thing,” Rosemary Clooney joked during the first Rosemary Clooney Music Festival in Maysville on Sept. 25, 1999.

Clooney agreed to perform at the festival, bringing her career full circle, at no cost as long as the proceeds from the show went to the Rescue the Russell effort.

Cousin Ben Breslin was the first to pitch the idea of a festival to the Girl Singer.

“I called her one night and said ‘What about a Rosemary Clooney Festival?’ ” Breslin said. “She said ‘Let’s start out by supporting the Russell Theater and help get it on its feet.’ ”

The cousin described a close-knit family with Rosemary at the center and said he was surprised by the suddenness of her death.

“I knew it was bad, but I had no idea it would be so quick,” Breslin said.

Rosemary’s brother, Nick Clooney said his sister never forgot her roots and was comforted by the area whenever she returned.

“Rosemary loved Maysville and this whole area. It was an integral part of her life,” Nick Clooney said. “The way she centered herself was to come home to Maysville, to Augusta, to Kentucky.”

“She used to always say flying in ‘This is the only place in the world that has a thousand shades of green,’” Nick Clooney said.

His sister loved her connection to the state and basked in its admiration for her.

“She always loved there was a Rosemary Clooney Street. She loved the idea the people of the community cared about her,” Nick Clooney said.

A favorite hometown moment for Rosemary Clooney was when then Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler dubbed her the “Kentucky Songbird,” Nick Clooney said.

Lifelong friend Blanche Mae Chambers also spoke about Rosemary Clooney’s continued connection to the area as well as her friends.

Chambers mother worked at the Central Hotel across from Clooney’s grandparents home. Rosemary and her sister Betty Clooney often sang on the street.

“That’s how we met,” Chambers said.

The Clooney sisters along with Blanche Mae and her sister Thelma, played together often which usually involved “running and jumping,” Chambers said.

The foursome loved going to the Maysville Lunchroom for cheese coneys and ice cream, Chambers said.

“We had so much fun,” Chambers said.

The friendship continued throughout their lives and Rosemary remained loyal to the friendship and the area no matter how brightly her star was shining.

“Rosemary never forgot Maysville. Maysville was her home and she never forgot it. Most people would have forgotten a little town like Maysville,” Chambers said.