"Newport singer recalls a gifted Rosemary Clooney"

By James J. Gillis, Newport Daily News, July 2, 2002

NEWPORT - News of singer Rosemary Clooney's death this past Saturday immediately transported Newport singer "Saucy" Sylvia Mureddu back to 1945 and a radio station in Cincinnati.

Mureddu, who has lived and performed in Newport for 30 years, worked with Clooney and her sister, Betty, at a 50,000-watt radio giant called WLW in 1945.

"They were the Clooney Sisters back then," Mureddu said Monday night. "I was a staff singer and had my own show, singing and piano, and they were also staff singers and sang on a show. We were both discovered by a fellow named Barney Rapp, who had a band called Barney Rapp and the New Englanders."

Rapp found Mureddu, who had just completed her master's degree at Ohio State, playing in a hotel bar in Anderson, Ind. He took her to WLW, where Doris Day and the Mills Brothers had worked years earlier.

The Clooneys, Mureddu said, were still girls, very pleasant but with an air of sadness about them.

"They called them orphans," she said. "They were really pathetic, actually. I say that in that I mean they were forlorn. I don't think they were orphans. I believe they did have parents, but it was a bad situation of some kind. I know they had a brother, Nick (father of actor George Clooney), who came along later. They were all from Maysville, Ky."

Mureddu said she knew Rosemary Clooney had a special gift. "I can say that I really did see it," she said. "We rehearsed together, and I sauntered into rehearsal one time and Rosemary was singing solo. And I could tell, anyone could tell, that she was something special."

Bandleader Tony Pastor hired the Clooneys two years later and they debuted in Atlantic City in 1947. Betty left the act two years later. In 1951, Rosemary recorded "Come on-a My House" for Columbia Records, and it propelled her to stardom.

"She never really wanted to record that stuff, 'Come on-a My House' and 'Mambo Italiano.' (Columbia executive) Mitch Miller made her," Mureddu said. "She liked doing the jazz standards. But by doing those songs, she got a chance to do what she liked later in her career."

Clooney came to Newport in 1993, for the opening night of the JVC Jazz Festival-Newport at the Newport Casino, where she performed, as it turned out, a set of jazz standards.

Mureddu was away that weekend. But she did see Clooney twice after their days in Ohio - once at the Fox Theater in Detroit and again in the late 1980s at the former Warwick Musical Theater, where Clooney sang in a revue called "Four Girls Four."

"We went backstage and she graciously received us," Mureddu said. "I say that she received us because some people, when they become big stars, they don't bother to remember anyone. But we reminisced a little bit and it was very nice.

"We had kind of kept in touch. My mother used to see her whenever she played in Toronto - I grew up in Canada. Rosemary loved Shalamar perfume, and my mother always brought her a bottle."

Mureddu, who performs regularly at the Hyatt Regency hotel on Goat Island, said she heard not long ago that Clooney was ill with lung cancer. But the news of Clooney's death still took her aback.

"So many memories come out all at once," she said. "She had a wonderful style, very simple. She never needed the big flourishes. She was definitely a great contributor. And she'll never be forgotten."