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Singer Rosemary Clooney Dead at 74

Pop-jazz vocalist Rosemary Clooney died on June 29 of lung cancer. She was 74 years old.

During the past five decades, Clooney's smooth, distinctive voice and emotional delivery earned her the admiration of critics and her peers, including Frank Sinatra, who once called her "a symbol of good modern American music."

In 1951, Mitch Miller convinced Rosemary Clooney to record the novelty tune, "Come On-A My House." The song, which contained lyrics she first felt were silly and demeaning, became an immediate hit, reaching Number One on the charts and selling more than 500,000 copies.

Six years previous to its success, Ms. Clooney and her sister Betty formed a duo and toured the United States with the Tony Pastor Orchestra. Then, at age 21, the Kentucky native headed to New York City to pursue a solo career. It was 1948 and World War II had depleted male singers from popular bands.

That, in turn, opened the doors for charismatic "girl singers," such as Doris Day, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald. Their popularity endured even after the war ended, and in 1950, Columbia Records added Ms. Clooney to its roster.

During the 1950s, Ms. Clooney's talents were featured on numerous radio and television programs, as well as in motion pictures. Her role in White Christmas was credited for much of the film's success.

Simultaneous to Ms. Clooney's whirlwind popularity, she married actor Jose Ferrer and gave birth to five children within six years. The difficulties of balancing her career and family life eventually became too great, and in 1968, she dropped out of the entertainment business.

She said, "A perfect life that always existed in the magazines of the 50s and was kind of the '50s myth, I wasn't measuring up to it at all. I always wanted to be with my children and my work took me away from them. I found the separation unbearable. I realized that I wasn't handling any of the things that all the rest of the ladies in Photoplay issue seemed to be handling. Then, I would turn the page and read the same story about myself and realize that perhaps it all was untrue."

For the next eight years, Rosemary Clooney sought help for an addiction to tranquilizers and sleeping pills. The turning point in her life came in 1976, when she was invited by long-time friend Bing Crosby to perform on his 50th anniversary tour. The event launched a major comeback for Ms. Clooney and led to a recording contract with the Concord Jazz label in 1977.

Missing from Rosemary Clooney's early recordings was the pop and jazz standards she loved to sing. She once expressed her gratitude to the Concord Jazz company for giving her the freedom to include them in her repertoire. "When I was in the mainstream of the pop department in the '50s," she said, "I didn't have a chance to do that many standards. I did new songs all the time. Since I've been with Concord Jazz, I've been able to pick the composers or the lyricists or the kinds of songs that I want to do and I don't think anybody has that luxury. I'm very grateful to them for letting me do it."

Ms. Clooney added that she collected favorites that lasted throughout her performing career. "When the recordings come out and if they have a point of view, and they usually do, then I'll do that composer or lyricist for about a year," she continued. "Then, I'll put a few things that I really loved from those performances into a pool that I choose from."

In 1995, Clooney celebrated her 50th year in music by recording Demi-Centennial, an album of songs she dedicated to the special people in her life. In February of this year, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

At that time, she was hospitalized for lung cancer surgery. Her cancer treatments continued until May. Seventy-four-year-old legendary singer Rosemary Clooney lost her battle with the disease on June 29 at her California home.