If It Sounds Good, It Is Good! | November 2015
If you haven’t made the pilgrimage to the Rosemary Clooney House and museum in Augusta, Kentucky, do yourself a favor and put it at the top of your “must-see” list. It is packed with a wealth of memorabilia from Rosemary’s life and her illustrious family, but more importantly it gives a richer understanding of how growing up on the banks of the Ohio River shaped one of the greatest interpreters of the American Songbook. Rosemary was born a little upriver of Augusta, in Maysville (another lovely town to visit), and launched her career in Cincinnati at WLW. She adored this region and shared the spotlight with us all; her first major film, The Stars are Singing, was given its world premiere at the charming Russell Theatre in the heart of old Maysville in 1953, and 45 years later she created a little music festival there to restore the place. Though her talent took her around the world, this would always be home. Many of you probably remember seeing Rosemary perform with the Pops; she had a loving relationship with our band and a deep friendship with Pops Founder Erich Kunzel. She first performed with the Pops in July of 1984 (the Pops’ first summer at Riverbend Music Center) and was a welcome guest for numerous performances and recordings.
Flash forward to just a couple of years ago—backstage with Megan Hilty after her most recent performance with the Pops in January 2014, we chatted about all our favorite singers, and, of course, Rosemary Clooney came up. Megan spoke so adoringly of her, and she was delighted when I mentioned that Rosemary was from these parts. “Why don’t we have you back for a Rosemary tribute concert?” I said. “She sang with SO many fantastic arrangements for orchestra, you’d be a perfect fit!” It often takes months to put together a Pops concert program—this one took exactly three seconds. Like Rosemary, Megan is a talent that comes around once in a generation, and she possesses the pipes and the panache to give Rosie’s classics the tribute they deserve. I’m absolutely delighted to work with her again.
In addition to the songs that Rosemary made famous, the Pops will be swinging some of my favorite tunes from the late Big Band era with arrangements based on the distinctive artistry of Nelson Riddle. Riddle had a unique and sophisticated orchestral sound that has been immortalized in hundreds of arrangements in recordings by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee and Dean Martin, and he was the music director for the syndicated television series The Rosemary Clooney Show in the late 1950s. That low, fat bass trombone and laid-back brass juxtaposed with high, sweet strings? Yup, that’s Riddle. We’ll hear classics from the American Songbook by composers like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and Hoagy Carmichael, all given the orchestral star treatment, in recreations of arrangements, many of which have been lost for decades.
I’m also thrilled that Rosemary’s brother, Nick, is able to join us for these performances. As another great friend of the Pops, Nick knew Rosemary better than anyone, and we all look forward to the warm and wonderful memories he’ll be sharing with us.