In Honor of Ms. Clooney

Billboard Magazine
Words & Music: Posthumous Grammy For Clooney Would Be Her First

The late Rosemary Clooney was nominated for a Grammy Award many times during her illustrious career, yet never won—much to her chagrin.

“She always wanted a Grammy,” Clooney’s longtime manager Allen Sviridoff says. “But almost every time she was nominated she was in competition with Tony Bennett—and almost every time, Tony took it away.”

Clooney died June 29, 2002, but is up for a Grammy once again with her posthumous release “The Last Concert” (Concord), a best traditional pop vocal album nominee.

Recorded Nov. 16, 2001, in Honolulu with the Honolulu Symphony Pops and the Big Kahuna & the Copa Cat Pack big band, the concert indeed turned out to be Clooney’s last major concert performance.

That the album was actually made, though, was largely due to fate, Sviridoff asserts.

“The Honolulu Symphony Pops wanted an album deal, so we were doing a test recording to show the record company what they sounded like,” Sviridoff says.

The Pops was taping its entire 2001 season to submit a representative sampler to the label. Meanwhile, Sviridoff had booked Clooney on a Hawaiian vacation, at the end of which she agreed to sing a couple of concerts.

“We had no intention of making a [Clooney] record, but it was incredible how beautiful the orchestra played and how beautiful she sang,” Sviridoff recounts. “There isn’t a fixed vocal because we didn’t think to issue it until after she passed—and we realized that we had her last recording.”

But “The Last Concert” is special for its content, too.

“What makes it unique is that it’s all live and has wonderful dedications like ‘The Singer,’ a song for one of her favorite people—Frank Sinatra—that her drummer [Joe Cocuzzo] wrote [with pianist Vincent Falcone Jr., who also worked with Clooney]. And it also has her version of ‘God Bless America’—the epitome of beauty and strength. She sang it a lot, and people always asked her to record it, but she never did, and it’s the last song on the album—recorded two months after 9-11.”

The rest of the set, Sviridoff continues, “is really a journey of her life,” marked by stage patter “that captures her story and humor—for she was one of the funniest women on the stage.”

In keeping with tradition, Clooney is again up against Bennett, whose “A Wonderful World” album with k.d. lang is nominated, as are Rod Stewart’s “As Time Goes By . . . The Great American Songbook: Volume II,” Barbra Streisand’s “The Movie Album” and, most ironically, Bette Midler’s “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.”

Noting that her career commenced before the Grammy Awards were instituted, Sviridoff recalls Clooney’s last Grammy nomination, for her 2001 album “Sentimental Journey,” which also featured Big Kahuna & the Copa Cat Pack. It fell to Bennett’s “Playin’ With My Friends: Tony Bennett Sings the Blues” in the best traditional pop vocal album category. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

“She had gotten bit by a mosquito and got encephalitis and was [hospitalized] with a 107-degree fever,” Sviridoff says. “She was in a coma, but she came out of it during the Grammys and said, ‘Do you know what I was dreaming the whole time? That eight Tony Bennetts were standing around me with Grammys in their hands and handing me one.”

Sviridoff now dreams that Clooney will finally receive her long desired and deserved first Grammy win. It should be noted, however, that in 2002, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award honoring “her unique and individual vocal style that combined skillful phrasing, subtle timing and an honest relationship with the lyric, making her one of the great interpreters of the American popular song.”

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