I fell for Rosie Clooney when I first heard “Come On a My House” when I was a little boy. My parents were Mitch Miller fans and they had many of his albums around the house. Between “Mr. Sandman” and “Tennessee Waltz” there was Clooney’s sultry, upbeat tune the meaning of which completely escaped me at the time.
As I grew, my fondness for Clooney never dimmed. In fact, it only deepened, particularly when I had matured and was musically experienced as a professional singer to know exactly how brilliant she could be with a lyric. Not only was the natural timbre of her voice warm and attractive, but she could “turn” a lyric with such subtle, musically sensitivity–be it ballad to jazz to swing–and mix it with just the perfect touch of parlando style. This, from what she said and from what I observed, came from her early exposure to American Songbook giants like Goodman and the Gershwins, and singers like Helen Forrest and Peggy Lee.
Her famous nephew George once opined that his aunt’s success was based on her simplicity, and that she just sang a song and didn’t “try to show off.” The nephew might be a great big movie star, but from that remark it’s hard to say what he knows about music or singing. But I will say this: Rosie Clooney didn’t just “sing a song.” She understood both the musical and emotive qualities of it, and she brought her instrument to bear in revealing these qualities to her audiences. With her signature diction (those soft “t’s” cannot be beat), as well as her skill at retaining the innate qualities of her voice (notice how she uses the word “and” to refocus the forward placement), she was matched by few.
Here she is at Carnegie Hall, still packing them in at the end of her long career, singing both “Foggy Day” and “Our Love Is Here to Say,” with lyrics by her dear friend and neighbor, Ira Gershwin. She’s as brilliant as ever.