On the Lighter Side: Remembering Rosemary Clooney

Joe Guilbeau

Recent generations have never heard the name Rosemary Clooney. In her heyday, she was the best singer in the business.

Clooney and I were born the same year – 1928. She sang it simple, sexy, and sad.

Joe Guilbeau

By Metropolitan Opera standards, 25-year-old ballad singer Rosemary Clooney was as innocent of musical training as a rose-breasted grosbeak.

Rosemary never bothered to learn to read notes.

“I can tell whether the tune goes up or down, but I can’t tell how far,” she would say.

She disdained such longhair affectations as warming up her voice.

“What have I got to warm up,” she would say.

But Rosemary knew how to put a song across. To the distraught ears of the 16- to 22-year-olds who bought most of the $100 million worth of popular music in 1952, her voice had become as familiar as the voice of FDR was to their parents.

As she pranced up to the mic in her stocking feet, Rosemary would drop her cough drop into her palm, make a grimace at the control room of Columbia Records and open her mouth.

If the tune had a bounce, her slim Irish face would light up and her trim, spring-legged figure would jig happily. Her smile could be heard as well as seen.

If the words were sad, her face took on a little-girl-lost look. The moment her stint as the mic was over, she would pop her cough drop back in her mouth and drink a swig of Coca-Cola.

The Clooney voice was known to the trade as “barrelhouse and blue,” i.e., robust and fresh, with an undercurrent of seductiveness.

It could spin out a slow tune with almost cell-like evenness or take on a raucous bite in a fast rhythm.

In a melancholy mood, it had a cinnamon flavor that tended to remind fans of happier days gone by – or soon to come.

Moreover, thanks to the malocclusion of the Clooney jaw, her voice carried just a hint of a lisp that no competitor could quite duplicate, and in the ballad business, distinctiveness is worth more than a clear high C.

Much of the ballad public of that time believed that Rosemary Clooney was created overnight by one record, an Armenian-American calypso “Come on-a My House.” The fact was that Clooney did as much for the song as the song did for her.”

Paramount Pictured called her “Miss Crosby” and said, “Don’t let anybody teach her how to act.”

But one day, Bing Crosby made a detour from his own path to shuffle around to her set.

“I just want to tell you,” Bing said, “that I think you’re the best singer in the business.”