The distinctively unpretentious, deep, rich, and smooth voice of Rosemary Clooney earned her recognition as one of America's premiere pop and jazz singers. According to Clooney's record company press biography, Life magazine, in a tribute to America's “girl singers” named her one of “six preeminent singers ... whose performances are living displays of a precious national treasure ... their recordings a preservation of jewels.” First-class crooner Frank Sinatra stated, as was also reprinted in Clooney's press biography, “Rosemary Clooney has that great talent which exudes warmth and feeling in every song she sings. She's a symbol of good modern American music.”
The singer noted for her decades-long mastery of American popular song started life amid the poverty of small-town Maysville. Her childhood was a difficult one; Clooney and younger siblings Betty and Nick were shuttled among their alcoholic father, Andy, their mother, Frances—who traveled constantly for her work with a chain of dress shops—and relatives, who would take turns raising the children. When Clooney was 13 her mother moved to California to marry a sailor, taking Nick with her but leaving the girls behind. Her father tried to care for Rosemary and Betty, working steadily at a defense plant, but he left one night to celebrate the end of World War II—taking the household money with him—and never returned. As Clooney described in her autobiography, This for Remembrance, she and Betty were left to fend for themselves. They collected soda bottles and bought meals at school with the refund money. The phone had been disconnected, the utilities were about to be turned off, and the rent was overdue when Rosemary and Betty won an open singing audition at a Cincinnati radio station. The girls were so impressive, in fact, that they were hired for a regular late-night spot at $20 a week each. “The Clooney Sisters,” as they became known, began their singing career in 1945 on WLW in Cincinnati.
This work brought them to the attention of bandleader Tony Pastor, who happened to be passing through Ohio. In 1945 The Clooney Sisters joined Pastor's orchestra. They toured with Pastor as featured singers until 1948, at which point Betty decided to return to Cincinnati and her radio career. Rosemary continued as a solo vocalist with Tony Pastor for another year. Then, in 1949, deciding she needed to expand her professional career, she left the band; at age 21 Clooney struck out on her own and headed for New York City.