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Rosemary Clooney Makes a Country Record at RCA’s Nashville Studio

Apr 26, 2016

Rosemary Clooney was a chart-topping pop singer in the early 1950s. Her recordings ran the gamut, from gentle love ballads to Latin-flavored mambo tunes and even country favorites. Clooney’s hits include “Come On-a My House,” “Tenderly,” “Hey There,” and “This Old House.” In 1951, she had a #1 pop hit with a cover of Hank Williams’s “Half as Much.”

Clooney grew up in Maysville, Kentucky, where she heard all types of music, including country. The singer once wrote, “I honestly do like all kinds of songs, but I can’t fight the fact that I grew up in country music country. Even today those simple, honest ballads have a way of getting to me like few kinds of songs do.”

With her sister Betty, Clooney began her singing career on radio powerhouse WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio There they met talented entertainers who would go on to become stars, among them a young guitar player named Chet Atkins.

In 1947 Clooney began a run with Columbia Records. She recorded and performed with pop and jazz artists including Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Harry James, and Frank Sinatra, among others. She also worked with country artists including Gene Autry, Johnny Bond, the Collins Kids, George Morgan, and Carl Smith.

By the late 1950s Clooney was scoring fewer hits. She left Columbia in 1958 and bounced around to different labels, making records for MGM and Coral before signing with RCA Victor. Her output for RCA consisted of a Latin album with Perez Prado and a few jazz and swing LPs.  In May of 1961 Clooney headed to Nashville to make an album of country standards, produced by Dick Pierce and her old friend from WLW days, Chet Atkins. The sessions took place at RCA Studio B.

On hand for the sessions were Nashville’s A-team musicians including guitarists Ray Edenton, Hank Garland, Grady Martin, and Velma Smith; bassist Bob Moore; pianist Floyd Cramer; and drummer Douglas Kirkham. Both the Anita Kerr Singers and the Jordanaires provided background vocals. These players had recorded with most of the biggest names in country music and some of the biggest rock & roll and pop artists, including Elvis Presley.

On May 8 and 9 Clooney, along with the A-team musicians, recorded six songs including Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” the Delmore Brothers’ “Beautiful Brown Eyes” (which Clooney had released as a single for Columbia in 1951), and Don Gibson’s “Give Myself a Party.”

A single from the Nashville sessions was released in the fall of 1961. It paired “Give Myself a Party” with “If I Can Stay Away Long Enough.” “Give Myself a Party” received favorable reviews but stopped at #108 on Billboard’s pop chart.

Llisten to Rosemary Clooney sing "Give Myself A Party."

“Give Myself A Party” – Rosemary Clooney

The A-team musicians, without Clooney, returned to Studio B in March of 1962 to record backing tracks for six more songs.  Most of the original players were present, with a few additions, including Don Gibson and Jerry Reed.  Clooney added her vocals in Hollywood in July 1962 for what became the album Rosemary Clooney Sings Country Hits from the Heart.

Finally released in 1963, the album would be Clooney’s last for RCA Victor. The album stands as a testament to the dynamic sounds coming out of RCA Studio B in the early 1960s.

Clooney returned to Nashville in 1975, after a seven-year absence from recording, to make her second country album, Look My Way. She recorded this time in the newer RCA Studio A, one building and a few feet away from venerable RCA Studio B, where she had recorded in 1961. From 1977 until her death in 2002, Clooney made albums for the jazz label Concord, but she never recorded in Nashville again.

—Michael Manning

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