Madeira sister pay tribute to Clooneys

By Regina Villiers. Originally published August 21, 2002 in The Suburban Life, added August 22, 2020.

Madeira sisters from left, Laura and Becca Wallace, perform Rosemary and Betty Clooney’s “Sisters” in the Sellman School “Lip Sync” show.

     Each year in May, students at the Sellman School put on a “Lip Sync” show at their Spring Fling.  It has become a tradition and a bit of fun that the kids work at and enjoy.  The students perform pantomimes and lip sync to recordings of their choice.

     At the show this past May, sisters Laura and Becca Wallace brought down the house with their performance of Rosemary and Betty Clooney’s recording of “Sisters.”

     I was interested in their choice. I’d have thought that Laura, a sixth-grader at the time, and Becca, in fourth grade, would have chosen maybe Britney Spears, instead of singers from my era.  But too many people chose Britney, they said, and they wanted to be different.

     Their mom, Shelly, says the girls made their own choice last winter, because of the family’s tradition of watching the movie “White Christmas” during the holidays.  The girls worked at it, she said, and did their own choreography.

     The girls are members of a dance group, “No Limits,” from the Connie Ferguson School of Dance in Silverton.  Laura performed as Rosemary and Becca took on the role of Betty, the younger Clooney sister.

     Their parents videotaped their performance and one of their teachers passed on to me a copy of the tape.

     I was impressed.

     This was only a few weeks before Rosemary Clooney died on June 29.  To me, it seemed a tremendous tribute that these young sisters were still inspired and touched by her.

     But Rosemary Clooney was universal in her appeal.  All of us were touched by her in some way.  At her death, this much loved singer in America left us all feeling a loss, as if someone very close to us, a member of the family, had gone away.

     I felt a keen loss and it was personal.  I can’t drop her name and claim I knew her, but I did meet her a few times.

     I can honestly drop the name of her brother, Nick Clooney, and say that I know him.  I don’t think he would mind or be embarrassed if I claim we’re friends.  I’ve known him and the beautiful Nina for more years than either of us would admit to.  I’ve been in the wings for more than half of these years in broadcasting that he celebrated in June.

     And if you know Nick, you see his family.  Family is the most important part of Nick’s life.  Sooner or later, you will meet, or see, them all.  I did.

     From Nina, Ada and George, to sisters, nieces and nephews.  And yes, George was always a “hunk,” even as a talented, fun loving, artistic pre-teen.  But he was a very nice “hunk.”  All of the Clooney’s are – despite their talents and achievements, their feet are never far from the ground.

     Of the sisters, Betty was particularly special.  All the Clooneys make you feel special, that you’re no different from them and you matter to them.

     Betty made me feel that way, and I loved her like a sister.  She was also a most talented singer.

     But I saw and knew Gail, the youngest sister, most of all.  Gail knew her way to my house and to the fridge, which she’d replenished now and then.  She had her own bed and knew that she could always come here for the night, which she did.

     I only met Rosemary a few, brief times, but I am grateful for those times.  I saw her perform in person several times.  Being in her presence was mesmerizing.  No one could hold and audience or work a room the way she could.

     As she matured and grew, I became more and more a fan of her music, especially after she turned to jazz and started recording for the Concord Jazz label.  While most singers decline with age, Rosemary just got better and better.  Another local singer that does the same is Mary Ellen Tanner.  A tip:  get out and see her while you can.  She’s tremendous.  And getting better every day.

     In my memorabilia, I treasure a couple of letters I received from Rosemary years ago, along with her signed books and albums.

     There are so many of her albums to treasure.  The list from Concord Jazz goes on and on, each almost better than the last.  I treasure them all.

     My favorite, I think, for personal reasons, is “Rosemary Clooney sings Ballads,” from around 1985.

     Nick wrote the liner notes for this album and sent me a copy of it when it came out.  He was working for KNBC-TV News in Los Angeles at the time.

     He wrote about the quality of her voice, calling it “simple, straightforward, and honest.”  It was, of course.  That was her secret, along with her God-given talent, her incredible work ethic and her ability to bounce back.  “There’s so much in Rosemary’s voice,” he wrote.  “The good times and bad times… Maybe a hint that while we won’t get out of it alive we may get out of it intact; a wry understanding that the most important thing of all may be the moment, frozen in time by a song.”

     So many of our moments are frozen in time by Rosemary Clooney’s songs.  All the recordings she left behind will endure, maybe forever, to inspire young people like Laura and Becca Wallace.

     The moments are frozen, and her music will go on.