Sunday, January 13, 2019


We can consider ourselves fortunate to encounter individuals in our life with whom we develop  a special relationship.   Miles may separate us -- time may pass -- but a bond remains.  Highly valued are the rare opportunities to actually spend time with one another, but we augment with occasional contact  via other means.   Always present is the knowledge of that caring person still being present in our life.  And then comes the day when some of that changes. 

First thing one morning this past week, unwelcome news greeted me when I answered the phone.   I was just awakening, so was unprepared to process the information that such a special friend’s daughter phoned to impart.   Telling me how much my friendship had been valued, she ultimately revealed her mother had not awakened one morning after retiring the night before.  

Her mother and I had reminisced on the phone several months earlier.   I’d been thinking of her and planning to call her again in this new year now that the holiday rush was past.  I knew she had a large and very attentive family nearby, so felt her days would have been activity-filled, possibly tiring, or at least as busy as she could tolerate, given her declining health. 

The last time we had actually seen one another was in July of 2006.   I had been in town for a short time where we first met and finally was able to phone her before my departure flight.  She surprised me by coming to the airport where my hour ‘s wait for boarding allowed us special moments together to talk about so much in so little time.  So many years had passed since we last saw one another but she appeared just as vivacious and attractive as I had remembered her.

Since learning of her death, thoughts of her keep entering my mind.  I know she had a full rich life, but her time ran out at 94 years.    

“Ms. Cummins was born Ethel Mae Thompson ... By the time she was 15, she was singing in nightclubs in central Ohio. That’s where the [New Yorker] hotel’s bandleader, Bernie Cummins, on tour with his orchestra The New Yorkers, found her and signed her up. “I wasn’t allowed to date anyone in the band, so I married the bandleader’s brother,” she explained.”  as reported in The Morning News.

When they toured the country, after starting in Akron, Ohio, one frequent performance location was at "Pappy's Showland" located between Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas.  The orchestra had played all the famous NYC hotels along Park Ave., 5th Ave. for dinner and dancing including The New Yorker. 

This historic New Yorker Hotel had a 75th Anniversary in December 2005 to which Jeanne was invited to participate in the festivities since she had been the house singer with the band.  Those years later, she and her husband, Walter, decided to settle in our Midwest Ohio capitol, Columbus, Ohio, leaving NYC and the touring band routine behind to raise their family.   

Music was evolving into a quite different style from the twenties music, while Jeanne was singing with the band. It wasn't until the late 1950's that I met her as the family was growing and the road tours had long since stopped.   I was young and single, delighted to visit their home for moonlight ice skating on a frozen pond, thanks to her daughter loaning me her skates. A nearby bonfire provided warmth when the winter's chill penetrated our woolen wear.

Here's a video compilation for Jeanne's 90th birthday that includes photos of the TV shows casts including the band.

Jeanne was the popular vocalist on the live audience participation television talk show with which I was associated at WLW-C.   Her appeal to the viewing and studio audience was such that even when the TV show’s host changed, first to actor, Dean Miller (a regular on a popular network sitcom TV series “December Bride”) she continued as a show vocalist.    Then there was  Nick Clooney hosting for a while.  His son, George, was just a budding boy who, I've been told on good authority, was not shy about sharing his intent to be an entertainment star some day.  He may have reached his prophetic goal.

Jeanne’s talents were in demand for the show’s next and fourth reincarnation with a locally popular TV personality as host, Spook Beckman.   This rare video of her impromptu singing (B&W but the show broadcast in color) reveals her vocal skills and sensitivity but quirky sense of humor.    The host spontaneously relating her song's title to a personal event in her life went a bit awry.    She had been the recipient of a small inheritance from a woman who died at age 94, but once she began to sing Jeanne found the lyrics of the song not quite appropriate.  This is a good example of why live TV can be so entertaining, but also risky.

I always delighted in listening to the several decades of standards Jeanne sang, but especially remembered her as epitomizing the theme song and title “Happy Face” of a children’s TV show she created on which I  enjoyed working with her.    “Put On A Happy Face” lyrics from the Broadway show “Bye Bye Birdie” were so characteristic of Jeanne’s good humor and positive outlook on life.

 I wish there was a recording of Jeanne singing this song, but here are Dick VanDyke and Janet Leigh.

“Spread sunshine all over the place” is exactly what Jeanne did with her presence and her song vocalizations. 

You will be missed, Jeanne, but remembered for the pleasure your lovely sensitive lyric  interpretations gave others -- also with love and affection.   



  1. It's always sad to lose a friend, but on the other hand at 94 we can rejoice when that friend lived a full life that leaves behind so many good memories for so many people. A nicely written tribute, Joared.

  2. Sounds like she had an amazing life and a good death. That does not mitigate your loss of her as a friend to whom to talk. Longtime relationships are of great value.

  3. This is a kind and lovely tribute to your friend. My sympathies for your loss.

  4. What a wonderful friend you had! I laughed out loud at the I'll remember you segment. What a marvellous sense of fun and self-deprecation. You were indeed fortunate in having such a friend :)


  5. There never seems enough time. She sounds like a marvelous woman.

  6. Within a week or so of making the move to California from Colorado I met a group of kids at what was to be my new school on the day my mother was enrolling me. That was 58 or so years ago. Three of them and I have been friends ever since. We each went our separate ways as we grew up but remained close, getting together whenever we could. Four years ago I was in Texas and the others in various parts of California, My wife Lynn passed aaway. 3 days later there was aknock at my door and my 3 bsst friends were there to just hang out with me and do what they could tp help me in my time of need. They spent three of the most important days of my life with me. That is the kind of friendship you are speaking of, it seems to me. Everyone should be so lucky to have friends like that.

  7. I am so sorry you lost such a special friend. It seems she led a very productive and happy life. Enjoyed the bit with the Coffee Club. Her voice was fine and her humor contagious. Wonderful tribute.

  8. What a beautiful and talented woman. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  9. She lived such an interesting and full life. How lucky you were to have known her and did she ever sing with Rosemary Clooney?

    1. Not that I know. Even though Rosemary was from Ohio, she wasn’t touring to come back to Ohio for shows. She and Jeanne had no connection. The Clooneys (as was Doris Day) were Cincinnati vocalists before making a name outside the area. Brother Nick did most of his singing and Ohio TV work at our sister station there, WLW-T, on their Ruth Lyons Show who was doing live talk TV long before networks did it. Another local male vocalist, Bob Braun, took over that show and I’ve noticed in any biography of Nick little or no mention of his TV years at those stations in Columbus or Cincinnati. His Columbus show hosting was short-lived. The Avco corporation had purchased Crosley Broadcasting, later sold off the stations which have different call letters now, too, with demise of those live shows. Dayton, Ohio station, WLW-D, is where Phil Donahue started, and writer Erma Bombeck gained audience.

  10. Your friend was a talented and upbeat lady, I can tell from reading your post. Sad to lose her.

    1. Yes, she was. Thanks for stopping by.

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