Pops to offer tribute to Rosie at July 4 Riverbend concert


By Mary Ellyn Hutton, Cincinnati Post music writer - July 2, 2002

Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel will be in Washington Thursday leading "A Capitol Fourth" with the National Symphony, but he is making sure Rosemary Clooney is honored at home by having the Pops salute her in his absence.

"I have asked (associate conductor) John Morris Russell to play a dedication to Rosie July 4. Very appropriately, he will play `My Old Kentucky Home.' " The concert is 8 p.m. Thursday at Riverbend and features the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus.

Clooney died Saturday night in Los Angeles at the age of 74. A native of Maysville, she maintained a home in Augusta.

Kunzel learned of Clooney's passing after a Pops concert Saturday night at Riverbend with guest artist Michael Feinstein.

"I heard it as I walked offstage. It was heartbreaking for both of us. She was a mother image to Michael, you know. We had anticipated it because she was failing rather rapidly, but obviously it was so sad."

Clooney had performed with the Pops twice in the last four years, once for the Pops' July 4, 2000, PBS-TV special at Riverbend and at a concert in honor of her 70th birthday, also at Riverbend. "We were planning to have her open the season next summer, presenting her in her 75th birthday year. So now we'll celebrate it with her up in heaven."

Kunzel described Clooney as "unique.

"I told the audience at Riverbend (at her 70th birthday concert) every young singer should study with this girl, because there hasn't been a note in her entire 50-some-year career that hasn't been sung absolutely in tune, intonation perfect. And you could understand every single word. Now with these young singers, they hoot and holler and scream, they're flat, they're sharp, you can't understand a single word.

"With her, every single word you could understand beautifully. And she sang those words with meaning. I hope these people will study all her recordings because it was a legendary sound. She was a legendary figure."

Kunzel and Clooney were close personal friends, too, he said. "She had a great sense of humor. All the Clooneys do — they're all nuts — and she always had a wonderful yarn about Cole Porter or Gershwin or somebody. She made you feel like you were in her living room when you were performing with her. `Come on-a my living room and sit down, I'm gonna sing a song for you.' That's the feeling she evoked when she performed."

Kunzel said he hopes to do a memorial concert for Clooney at some point. "I'm going to talk to Nick (Clooney), but I don't want to disturb the family right now. Nick and I will be in contact and we'll see what we'll do."