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Bette’s tribute to Rosemary Clooney

The ‘Divine Miss M’ re-visits songs of the past to celebrate the music of one of the greatest pop and jazz singers of the 20th century.
/ Source: TODAY

For more than three decades, she’s given new meaning to the word “Divine” with her work in music, movies, and television. With her latest project, Bette Midler pays tribute to one of her idols. NBC’s Katie Couric reports.

Bette Midler made a name for herself with salutes to the big band music of the ’40s.

And now the “Divine Miss M” is once again re-visiting songs of the past, this time celebrating the music of one of the greatest pop and jazz singers of the 20th century — the legendary Rosemary Clooney.

“I’d always loved her. I met her in the early ’80s in San Francisco and she was wonderful to me.

One of America’s most beloved entertainers, Clooney hit the big time in the early ’50s, and kept on singing until shortly before her death from lung cancer last year, at the age of 74.

Midler says, “Her voice was really a beautiful voice. It was honey and she had tremendous intonation. She also really swung.”

She adds, “She was very intelligent. She had a great sense of humor. And I think that all those things — it was a wonderful package.”

Bette Midler sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook” — features 11 classic hits including, “Hey There.”

Bette Midler: “‘Hey there… you with the stars in your eyes.’ I love that one too.”

Katie Couric: “I love that song.”

Midler: “You’re going to make me cry! When I was a kid, I used to sing along with her when that song came on the radio, I love ‘Come On To My House’ because...”

Couric: “Well that is so quintessential Rosemary Clooney. Wasn’t that pretty much her theme song? Or…”

Midler: “Yes, it was. It was the first song she had a hit on. It was her first number one record. It was great to sing that.”

Couric: “Well, I love listening to the CD. And I’m just curious what your favorite song is.”

Midler: “I like all the duets. Linda Ronstadt is on the record.”

Couric: “I love that song. And I know every word.”

Midler: “I know.”

Couric: “That’s such a fun song and with Linda Ronstadt.”

Midler: “With Linda Ronstadt, who I always wanted to sing with.”

Couric: “And you did, ‘White Christmas.’”

Midler: “I did ‘White Christmas,’ and I was terrified. It’s one of the most important Christmas songs there is. And everyone has taken a crack at it, and it’s hard.”

Couric: “Why is that so hard to sing?”

Midler: “It’s hard because — it’s hard because she — when she sang it, she made it almost impossible for anyone to sing it any better than she did.”

Couric: “Really?”

Midler: “Yes. I really feel that.”

The project is also a reunion of sorts — for the first time since the ’70s, Bette’s back in the studio with the man who helped make her famous — her former piano player and musical director — Barry Manilow.

“He called me up out of the blue and he said, ‘I had a dream’ and I said, ‘pardon me?’ and he told me that he had this dream that I did a — that I sang these Rosemary Clooney songs. And that he was the producer. And when he said that, it just went like this everything just kind of fell into place. He’s a terrific producer, a great arranger, and a great friend.”

Couric: “When it came to picking songs that — was it hard because you must have had so many to choose from?

Midler: “I let Barry do that. He was very, very precise about what he wanted. And it’s the first time really in my career that I didn’t — fight. That I didn’t answer back. And I’m a big in answering back.”

Couric: “Can I write down the date and time here?” (Laughter)

Midler: “But this time, I was so tired of putting my two cents in. I said, ‘Barry, whatever you say.’ And he was right.”

Couric: “You guys have a very cute exchange before you sing, ‘Slow Boat to China.’”

Midler: “Yeah.”

Couric: “Which is very funny where you guys kind of play around — was that his idea? Your idea?”

Midler: “That was his idea. And I was really glad that we did it. And it’s very much like what we are because the original duet was Bing and Rosemary. And it’s very kind of flirtatious. But I said, ‘Barry, I don’t want to flirt with you. You know, I really miss you as a musical director. I think you’re so fantastic.’”

Couric: “But I don’t want to go to bed with you. And vice-versa!”

Midler: “I’m a married woman!” And he said, ‘well, we should make it about that, then.’ And we finally buried the hatchet. Because you know, I never actually said to him, you know, “I was so furious with you when you left me.’ He left me to have his own career.”

Couric: “And how can he be mad? I mean, look what he did when he left.”

Midler: “Well, he’s not mad. I’m mad.” (Laughter)

Couric: “Oh, sorry!”

Midler: “I was the one that was P.O.’d and I was mad for a long time. Because I thought, how could he leave me? And then I saw what he did, and I’m, well, well, he had a career!”

Couric: “The nerve!”

Midler: “The nerve! The crust! It was a big career. And he’s still going strong. And he’s had a great time. He’s had a great time, and he’s earned everything. He really has.”

Singing isn’t her only passion eight years ago, Bette started a group called the New York restoration project — created to help clean up parks, gardens and other open spaces throughout New York City. Since then, the group has raised millions of dollars to keep New York green.

Midler: “People deserve — and need — really, for their own mental health a place to recreate themselves. A place to be calm, and a place to sort of sit in nature. Because nature really is the thing that gives you — that recharges your battery.”

Bette says her tribute to Rosemary Clooney most definitely recharged her creative batteries.

Midler: “I think it’s a terrific record. I had the best time. I hope she’s looking down and having a big smile because it was an incredible life. It was an incredible career. But the main thing was that she was — she was a very successful human being. She was a big soul. And that counts for a lot.”