Rosemary Clooney was one of the most popular singers in the 1950’s. Her lengthy career and her personal life were full of ups and downs. She was loved not only for her talent but for her energy and perseverance. Rosemary was born on May 23, 1928 in Maysville, Kentucky to Andy & Frances Clooney. Both of her parents were Irish-Americans with her mother’s maternal family being the Guilfoyles. She would have two younger siblings Betty & Nick. Nick also made a career in entertainment as a talk-show host on radio and TV and also as a journalist. Rosemary loved her Irish heritage. She named her autobiography “This for Remembrance: The Autobiography of Rosemary Clooney, an Irish-American Singer.”
But her early years were tough. The kids were shuttled between their alcoholic father and their mother who, as a dressmaker, travelled constantly for a chain of dress shops. When Rosemary was 13 her mother left to marry a sailor in California and when World War II ended her father left to celebrate, taking all of the household money, and never returned. From then on Rosemary vowed to keep her family together and although she would go through many hardships, her family still praises her for all she did to keep them together.
She began her career in 1945 singing duets with her sister Betty for WLW Radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, followed by appearances with local bands. This brought them to the attention of Tony Pastor who was passing through Ohio. In 1947, they joined the Pastor band as the Clooney Sisters, making their debut at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. After two years on the road with its one-night stands, Betty decided to return to Cincinnati.
Rosemary struck out on her own and headed for New York. Almost immediately she was signed to a recording contract by Columbia Records. Her timing was perfect. In 1949, the big band era was coming to a close and the “girl singers,” such as Doris Day, Kay Starr and Peggy Lee were beginning to emerge as recording stars.
In 1951, Mitch Miller, the reigning monarch of Columbia, convinced Rosemary to record a novelty song, “Come On-A My House”. She felt the song was demeaning. Much to her surprise it was an immediate success. This one song catapulted her to stardom, and the next few years became an incredible whirlwind of professional activity.
Between 1951 and 1960 Rosemary had 31 charted hits. Four of them went to #1; Come On-A My House in 1951; Half as Much in 1952; Hey There and This Ole House in 1954. Four other songs reached the top ten.
In 1968 she was present at the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. This event along with her troubled marriage to Hollywood actor Jose Ferrer, and her addiction to drugs led to nervous breakdown. For years Rosemary had been trying to hide her addiction.
The rock revolution and a decision to spend more time with her family resulted in Clooney going into semi-retirement. She returned in the late 1970’s, singing with renewed power and confidence while making swing-influenced dates and combo sessions for the Concord record label (jazz). Her now famous nephew, George Clooney used to be Rosemary’s chauffeur in Hollywood. In between driving Rosemary and her Hollywood friends around, George would audition for movie roles and commercials.
She continued singing through the 1980-1990’s, doing standards, repertory albums, and demonstrating a resiliency and energy that validates her position among the greatest jazz-based vocalists in American history. In 2001 Rosemary toured through England, Ireland, Hawaii, New York City and many other cities in-between. On December 15, 2001 she gave her last concert and she died of cancer on June 29, 2002.
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