Debby Boone :: Ready For Her Close-Up
In 1977, Debby Boone became an instant household name with "You Light Up My Life," the song that spent a then-record ten weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart and was the biggest hit of the 1970s. In 1978, she won the Grammy Award as Best New Artist.
Although her pop music career faltered after that (she never had another Top Forty hit), in the ’80s and ’90s she had a successful career in country music and Christian music, ultimately garnering nine total Grammy nominations and three wins.
Boone also pursued theater work and appeared on Broadway in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "The Sound of Music," and "Grease," along with several regional productions. In 2005, she released her CD, "Reflections of Rosemary," her tribute to her mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney.
Boone is the daughter of Pat Boone, a hitmaker in the ’50s and ’60s, and she has been married to Gabriel Ferrer, the son of Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, for over thirty years. Gabriel is an Episcopal minister. They have four children.
Debby Boone is appearing at the Café Carlyle, celebrating the music of 1960s Las Vegas with "Swing This!," which will also be an upcoming CD release. EDGE spoke with her about her career and new show.
10 weeks at #1
EDGE: I still have very clear memories of being a young teenager listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty, and thinking how exciting it was as "You Light Up My Life" kept logging in weeks at Number One, breaking records. It was very dramatic, because Casey always had that drumroll before revealing the Number One song.
Debby Boone: [Laughs] You know, a lot of people know it was Number One for ten weeks and comment on that, but nobody has ever told me about that particular countdown experience!
EDGE: I was surprised to learn that it was not your vocal in the movie. So how did your recording of the song come about?
Debby Boone: It’s a strange story and I don’t know if I’ll get it right, but I’ll tell you what I heard. The guy who wrote the song was Joe Brooks, who had previously written jingles, then got into the movies as director and producer. A studio singer named Kasey Cisyk sang it for the film. I heard that they’d had an affair and then broke up, and he didn’t want her to have the single released. And she had made demands but had no record company to back her up, so was out of luck.
At the time, I was recording for Mike Curb, who had his own label at Warner. So Joe and Mike approached me about recording it. The funny thing was how much we sounded alike. If I had told people I had recorded the soundtrack they would have believed me!
EDGE: Lucky you and poor Kasey.
Debby Boone: I know! I wanted to meet her and tell her I had nothing to do with all that.
[Ed. Note: Cisyk had a very successful career in jingles but died of breast cancer in 1998.]
EDGE: Is there any downside to having such a massive hit?
Debby Boone: The obvious answer is no. When you have something that crosses over on every chart-Pop, Country, Adult Contemporary, Christian-it becomes impossible to follow up. What is not going to feel like you’re heading back downhill after that? But I wasn’t ready anyway. I had been singing with my family before that, and it was my first solo recording. Because there wasn’t a follow-up success after that, it gave me a chance to get my bearings. You know, I’m in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame on the One-Hit-Wonder wall, and Dad is not!
EDGE: Wow, he’s one of the biggest hitmakers of all time!
Debby Boone: I know. I hope that is remedied and that he can get in there while he’s still around to appreciate it.
EDGE: I grew up listening to the female pop singers of the ’70s. I think it was the golden age for female vocalists. There was such a purity of sound and respect for the melody. Now it seems singing is all about riffing. What are your thoughts about how young female vocalists are presented and marketed these days?
Debby Boone: In the age of "American Idol," that ability to do runs non-stop and ranges of four and five octaves is what everybody is impressed with. The singers I was impressed with could convey an emotion through a lyric and a melody and touch me at a soul level. Those singers had their own personalities, it wasn’t all this mimicry.
EDGE: We all know your father is Pat Boone, but some may not know that your mother-in-law was Rosemary Clooney. What musically did you learn from them?
Debby Boone: With my Dad, I was always drawn to his earEDGE:ly music, with arrangers like Gordon Jenkins. There were beautiful song choices and he had great pitch and clarity. Once I started hanging out with Rosemary, I realized the importance of surrounding yourself with the best arrangers and musicians and learning musicianship. Rosemary had her fair share of novelty records, but it’s not what nourished her. She didn’t give a crap about the high note, it was all about what you had to say. That took the onus off myself, when I thought I didn’t have enough of a range or wasn’t enough of a belter. I mean, we all love to go to a Broadway show and hear the big money note, but you don’t need to have one of those voices. What Rosemary could do with one octave . . .
Rosemary Clooney’s influence
EDGE: What did you learn about the business from them?
Debby Boone: As I approach this Carlyle run, I know from watching Rosemary that she put most of her emphasis on the show in New York. She knew if she did the kind of show that appealed to the New York critics, she could do it year-round. My Dad was never a nightclub and cabaret performer, but going to see Rosemary at a place like Rainbow and Stars was as good a night as you’d see anywhere.
EDGE: Can’t you get your cousin-in-law George to let you sing a theme song in one of his movies?
Debby Boone: [Laughs] From your mouth to George’s ears! It’s not like the thought hasn’t crossed my mind, but I know he’s getting approached by everyone and I don’t want to be one of those people. I love George and what he’s doing is phenomenal.
EDGE: You had a lot of success with Christian music as part of the Boone Girls and later as a soloist. Back then, the idea of being both gay and Christian did not really exist. As a Christian in the entertainment business, how have you reconciled your beliefs on the issue?
Debby Boone: You know, that has been a challenge from time to time and it shouldn’t have been. I have for many years questioned whether I needed to do only Christian music. There was always this big divide. I felt this pressure. I wanted my life to have purpose. I had and still have a strong faith. But I’ve realized the best thing I can do is be exactly who I am and not try to be something else. I don’t need to force it into everything I do. I’m not comfortable with that and it turns people off. What I have chosen to concentrate on is living my life with great integrity and to treat people how they want to be treated.
Defying the odds
EDGE: Is it true your husband has officiated at gay weddings, including Michael Feinstein’s?
Debby Boone: It is true. [Laughs] I should say, he officiated with Judge Judy. I don’t want to get in trouble!
EDGE: You yourself have defied the Hollywood odds with a 30-plus year marriage. What’s the secret?
Debby Boone: I don’t know how I got so fortunate. I got a gem. He’s a brilliant father and talented in so many ways, and he’s one of the funniest people on the planet. And I didn’t know I was marrying an Episcopal priest! There has never been a day when I’ve wondered about somebody else. There have been difficulties, but it’s always growing and changing. We entered into marriage believing it was a lifelong commitment, but we don’t judge those who can’t do it. You don’t want to stay with something that’s painful.
EDGE: Would you considering returning to Broadway if the right role came along?
Debby Boone: In a heartbeat. I’ve never done a straight play, so it would have to be the right role. And for a musical, I don’t have that big belty voice. But I’ve never had so much fun in my life. I still have lifelong friends from when I did "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."
EDGE: You’ve done pop, country, Christian, musical theater, and standards. Tell us about the new musical direction you are taking with "Swing This!" and how it evolved.
Debby Boone: It’s a progression from doing that tribute show to Rosemary. I’m still using her musical director, John Oddo, from that show. I told stories about the family and loved every minute of it. I grew by leaps and bounds. People came to the show came because they knew Rosemary or they knew "You Light Up My Life" and then they saw me doing all this other material and wondered where I’d been. It was very gratifying.
This time, I’m ready for a fun show. I’ve been connecting with the days when my Dad was headlining in Las Vegas during the Golden Age. So I talk about my encounters with different members of the Rat Pack. John has come up with some great, swinging arrangements of songs from that time, the early ’60s. I want people to have a good time.
EDGE: Have you played New York nightclubs before?
Debby Boone: The only time was Feinstein’s in 2005 when I was doing the Rosemary tribute show. It was great to be doing that music, but I feel I’ve grown so much since then. I feel like I’m ready to come back in a big way.
EDGE: Okay, here’s my final question and it’s very important. Do you recommend Lifestyle Lift for men?
Debby Boone: [Laughs] You know, when I did that infomercial, I had no idea how long it was going to run, or how many 30-second spots they would take from it. But I will say, I have certainly talked to many men who have been very satisfied with it!
Debby Boone appears Tuesday-Saturday at the Café Carlyle at 8:45 p.m. Call 212-744-4682 or go to www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/carlyle/dining/entertainment_calendar for more information.