The distinctively unpretentious, deep, rich, and smooth voice of Rosemary Clooney earned her recognition as one of America's premiere pop and jazz singers. According to Columbia Record's press biography, Life magazine, in a tribute to America's "girl singers", named her one of "six preeminent singers ... whose performances are living displays of a precious national treasure ... their recordings a preservation of jewels." First-class crooner Frank Sinatra stated: "Rosemary Clooney has that great talent which exudes warmth and feeling in every song she sings. She's a symbol of good modern American music."
It was at Columbia that Clooney began an important association with Mitch Miller, one of the company's A&R [Artists and Repertoire] representatives and top entertainers. In 1951 Miller convinced Clooney to record an oddball song, Come On-a My House, written by Ross Bagdasarian with lyrics by William Saroyan. When Miller first suggested the song, Clooney was highly skeptical, insisting the song was not her kind of material. She felt it was silly and demeaning; she believed the double-entendres were a cheap lyrical device and felt uncomfortable putting on an Italian accent. But Miller was persistent and finally persuaded Clooney to record it. He conceived a novel instrumental effect utilizing a harpsichord to accompany Clooney. Much to her surprise, the song was an immediate and enormous success, topping the charts to become a gold record. Come On-a My House made Rosemary Clooney a star. A household name, she became known simply as "Rosie." (This is reminiscent of one of the other preeminent singers of the time, Doris Day, who also felt much the same way regarding two of her songs that became million sellers: "A Guy is a Guy" and "Que Sera, Sera".)
Over the next few years, Clooney alternated between hot big-band swing and the light novelty fare Miller insisted upon, though she much preferred the former. She was wildly popular in the years leading up to rock & roll, scoring hit after hit: the chart-toppers "Half as Much," "Hey There," and "This Ole House"; the Italian-style tunes "Botch-a-Me (Ba-Ba-Baciani Piccina)" and "Mambo Italiano"; and several other cornerstones of her repertoire, including "Tenderly" and "If Teardrops Were Pennies." In addition, she recorded with the likes of Harry James, Marlene Dietrich (including the hit "Too Old to Cut the Mustard"), Gene Autry ("The Night Before Christmas Song"), Guy Mitchell, George Morgan, and actor José Ferrer, whom she married in 1953 after an abrupt courtship.
Paramount Pictures had decided to groom Clooney for movie stardom, and she made her screen debut in 1953's The Stars Are Singing. She appeared in several more films over the next two years, including Here Come the Girls, Red Garters, and most notably the hugely successful White Christmas, in which she performed the number "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me." However, acting was not to her taste; instead she mostly concentrated on radio and television, co-hosting a morning radio show with Bing Crosby and landing her own TV variety series in 1956, which ran through the next year. In the meantime, she and Ferrer had five children over the remainder of the '50s.
Clooney continued to record, though with diminishing success thanks to the advent of rock & roll. Still, her repertoire was growing more mature, as she recorded with Duke Ellington (the 1956 album Blue Rose) and Benny Goodman, and she also tried her hand at country standards and Broadway show tunes. Her final Top Ten hit was 1957's "Mangos," and the following year, she parted ways with Columbia and moved over to RCA, where she debuted with the well-received Bing Crosby collaboration Fancy Meeting You Here. She went on to record for MCA, Reprise, Coral, and Capitol during the '60s as well. However, the frantic pace of her career, coupled with her suddenly large family, took a heavy toll on Clooney. She became addicted to prescription drugs in the late '50s, and her increasingly stormy relationship with Ferrer ended in divorce in 1961. The two would later patch up their differences and remarry, but they divorced again in 1967. Still suffering from drug problems, Clooney's increasingly fragile mental state (she was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder) took another major blow in 1968, when good friend Bobby Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel just a short distance away from where Clooney was standing.
"COME ON-A MY HOUSE" (ORIGINAL)
SAME SONG...MANY YEARS LATER
Rosemary spent much of the '70s in intensive therapy, and was forced to deal with another blow when younger sister Betty died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1976. However, she was able to start a comeback that year, thanks to an invitation from Bing Crosby to join him on his 50th anniversary tour. The tour put Clooney back in the public eye, and the following year she published a confessional autobiography, This for Remembrance, and signed a new record deal with Concord Jazz. A steady stream of albums -- usually one per year, occasionally two -- followed all the way through the '90s; in general, they found Clooney in good voice, singing with energy as well as maturity. Most of her repertoire on those albums drew from the great American standards.
During the '90s, she enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to the swing revival that revitalized the careers of veterans like Tony Bennett. While she never considered herself a true jazz singer, her '90s dates sold extremely well among jazz audiences, and her position among the great American pop vocalists was solidified. Additionally, she made several appearances as an Alzheimer's patient on the TV medical drama ER, which co-starred her nephew George Clooney. Then, she published a second autobiography, Girl Singer, in 1999, and gave what proved to be her last live performance in December 2001. In January, she underwent surgery for lung cancer, and remained hospitalized for several months; she returned to her home in Beverly Hills, where she passed away on June 29, 2002. That same year, she received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.
SOME OF ROSIE'S BIGGEST HITS
Between 1951 and 1960, Rosemary charted 34 songs on the Billboard Hits Charts. Following are her biggest career songs...click on the title of the song to hear it: