SOMETHING about big band music seems to lend itself to longevity.
Many of the big name big bands are touring, in various incarnations, under their original names, and several of the top swing singers are still popular draws around the country.
Singer Rosemary Clooney never vanished. As a matter of fact, her singing career may be on the upswing again.
With hits like "Hey There," "Tenderly," and "This Ole House," Clooney became one of the memorable names from the days of big bands and "girl singers." Clooney opened at Charlie's Georgetown this week and will be singing there through Sunday.
When Clooney vamped her way through her signature song, "Come On-A My House," the song was banned from airplay in many areas, a fact she finds laughable. "We were banned all over the place--can you believe it? Apparently it was seen as a suggestive song."
Lyrics to the song, her first big hit, were written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan, with a melody by Saroyan's cousin, Ross Bagdasarian. (Bagdasarian later changed his name to David Seville and created the Chipmunks novelty recording act).
Clooney's Columbia Records A&R (artist and repertoire) man, Mitch Miller, found the song in a collection of Saroyan's essays called "Dear Baby," written about the Saroyan's travels across New Mexico. Saroyan was initially skeptical about having Clooney sing his song, but the record sold 3 million copies and made Clooney a star.
Clooney, born in 1928 in Mayville, Ky., started singing when she was 3. "My grandfather was a Kentucky politician, a Democrat, and I used to sing for his campaigns--all of FDR's favorite songs."
When the family moved to Cincinnati, 13-year-old Clooney and her 10-year-old sister, Betsy, teamed up for amateur contests and landed a spot on radio station WLW's "Moon River" program, with Tony Pastor and his band. Clooney left in 1949 for a solo career, and after appearing on television with Arthur Godfrey and Jan Miller, Mitch Miller signed her up with Columbia. Clooney went on to record a string of pop hits on her own, and even had her own television show in the 1950s.
Clooney now lives in Beverly Hills, but she says she's not there much of the time. "There was kind of a turnaround in my career," she says of a recent book and television movie about her life. Clooney herself chose Sondra Locke to play Clooney in the movie, and says the media exposure seems to have rekindled interest in her singing.
Clooney stays on the road much of the year with her "Four Girls Four" revue, which features three other veteran singers: Kay Starr, Helen O'Connell and Rose Marie. "That show is like an annuity," Clooney laughs. "We can pick it up or put it down whenever we want."
Clooney says she is excited about a concert on June 28--her debut at Carnegie Hall, where she'll be working with Count Basie; she's also been working quite a bit with Tony Bennett and Harry James.
Clooney is currently recording for the Concord jazz label, interpreting the works of classic American pop songwriters like Arlen, Gershwin and Porter.