Washington Times EDITORIAL July 6, 2002
Rosemary Clooney always liked to call herself a "girl singer," a title she earned as a vocalist touring with big bands in the late 1940s, the tag end of the Big Band Era. She was just a teenager then, on the brink of an overwhelming, if now-forgotten stardom that came to her during the early to middle 1950s, when she landed at the top of the pop charts, in "White Christmas," with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and on the covers of both Time and Life magazines. Nearly half a century later, Miss Clooney would name her second memoir "Girl Singer." This title confounded NBC's Katie Couric, for one, who, peering through a feminist scrim, failed to discern its essence as distilled by Miss Clooney's life: namely, the youthful and expressive vibrancy of the girl who absolutely had to sing to be heard. That same vibrancy would carry Miss Clooney through a career and personal odyssey of rollercoaster ups and downs.
"Girl singer" was also, quite unpretentiously, Miss Clooney's occupation. She stuck with it, even as it was going out of style with Elvis Presley coming on the scene, and rock 'n roll emerging to dominate popular music. You might say Rosemary Clooney defined herself by an era to which she was almost too young to belong. It wasn't that she avoided the songs of the new day. Among her biggest hits were then-new novelty numbers such as "Come On-a My House" (a song so annoying to her that she only recorded it to save her Columbia contract), and "Hey There," a ballad from then-contemporary Broadway. Nonetheless, from her early mass popularity to the success she enjoyed in recent years as a cabaret performer and jazz recording vocalist, Rosemary Clooney always favored the standards of the great American Songbook, and rendered them with a special warmth and wisdom.
This explains why Rosemary Clooney had much more in common with Bing Crosby, the dominant influence on pop performance in the first half of the 20th century, than with Elvis Presley, the dominant influence on the second half one in which she made her own career. This was true even though Crosby was 24 years older than Miss Clooney, and Presley just six-and-a-half years younger. (Incidentally, Miss Clooney's musical collaborations with Crosby in the 1950s, which include a delightfully swingy album called "Fancy Meeting You Here," boosted his career at a low period. Crosby was able to return the favor in 1974 by giving a starring spot in a show to Miss Clooney, who had just spent several years recovering from depression and drug addiction. Her performance marked her comeback, and the beginning of a second career as a successful nightclub act.)
And this also helps explains why her death at age 74 from lung cancer is that much more culturally significant, breaking, as it does, another mortal link to an illustrious musical past. Fortunately, it is a past with an eternal present, thanks to recording technology, and one well worth revisiting to renew our appreciation for the lost art of the love song and, now, the finally completed art of a lovely singer. Rosemary Clooney, RIP.