Entertainment » Music

Debby Boone Swings Into The 2010s

by BeBe Sweetbriar
Friday Dec 6, 2013

It is a given fact that Debby Boone will forever be remembered as the gal who sang "You Light Up My Life," the 1977 #1 hit that spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard Hot 100 chart and led her to winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist the following year.

Several major recording artists such as Kenny Rogers and Whitney Houston have made attempts in recording the song with hopes of creating a similar magic, but those renditions fell extremely short of Boone's original recording. Unfortunately for Boone, as much of a success "You Light Up My Life" was in igniting what has now been a 35-year career in the entertainment business, it was hard for Debby to capture that same level of success as a pop artist with subsequent releases, partly because her first hit was such a phenomenon and partly because her squeaky clean image didn't match the changing trend of pop music at the time.

"The fact that it took off with the propulsion that it did with its staying power....... made it impossible to follow with anything that was going to hold up," Boone said of not sustaining the same level of success.

But a talented vocalist many times moves to and from other music genres rather easily, and Debby Boone found successful homes with Country and Christian music throughout the 80’s with Country hits "My Heart Has A Mind of Its Own" (originally recorded by Connie Francis), "Love Has No Reason," and "Are You on the Road to Lovin’ Me Again" (No. 1 Country) and Christian music Grammys for "With My Song" album and "Keep The Flame Burning" single-duet with Phil Driscoll.

Along the way, Boone unexpectedly embarked on an acting career simultaneously with starring roles nationwide stage productions of "Seven Brides for Sven Brothers," "Camelot," "Meet Me in St. Louis," "The King and I," "South Pacific," "Grease" and "The Sound of Music." I got to do a lot of musical theater and that was not a goal of mine starting out," Boone continues, "but certainly a love of mine now."

Now with a new album release of standards and jazz music with "Swing This!" released in mid-November, it is no surprised to many fans that she has again been able to find yet another music home in another genre of music. Boone claims the music on "Swing This!" has always been of interest to her. Debby said, "I’ve always been drawn to this music even as a young girl. When my friends were listening to other kinds of music, I was listening to Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn."

On her way to San Francisco to perform in The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundations’ Help Is On The Way For The Holidays XII Holiday Gala, I had the rare opportunity to visit with Debby Boone to revisit her career from beginning to now, to talk about maintaining a normal non-celebrity life, and how Rosemary Clooney provided the inspiration to her new musical direction.

Staying power

BeBe: In speaking with you, a whole lot of memories come back of the time when you recorded the classic song ’You Light Up My Life.’ That period of time in the 1970s seemed to be a revolutionary time in music with Disco music entering the Rock Era, yet even with ’You Light Up My Life’ being a ballad, it still sticks out as a remarkable song of the period.

Debby Boone: That’s great to hear. I’m glad people haven’t totally forgotten about it.

BeBe: Well, this was the song that started your career, and what a song to have. Right out of the gate, you record a single that propels you straight up to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart staying at #1 for a record 10 weeks at that time. Only a few recordings have had a longer tenure at the top of the charts since then. So looking back at the immediate success you had with your first solo song, do you think your career in Pop music would have been different had it started with a less successful song, or had a gradual elevation to the top with a series of recordings?

Debby Boone: Absolutely! I think it would have been a completely different story. Of course, there’s no telling what that story would have looked like. The fact that it took off with the propulsion that it did with its staying power, the record breaking and all of that, made it impossible to follow with anything that was going to hold up. (The next record) was almost like starting over. I’m not saying that in a way of regret at all because basically that record completely shocked me more than anybody. It gave me the career that I’ve enjoyed for 30 plus years.

BeBe: You definitely moved into other genres of music eventually. You have done well with Country music, which is a part of your blood with your dad, Pat Boone, and maternal grandfather and Country music star Red Foley recording in the genre. You had a #1 Country hit with ’Are You on the Road to Lovin’ Me Again.’ Then you moved into Inspirational music which is dear to you adding two more Grammys to your Best New Artist Grammy earned from ’You Light up My Life.’

Debby Boone: You know it’s been an interesting journey, and I haven’t always known where I was aiming. I kind of got swept away in the current of it in many ways. That was kind of great because I found out things about myself that I never would have known. I got to do a lot of musical theater and that was not a goal of mine starting out, but certainly a love of mine now. When I decided to do what was then called Contemporary Christian music, it was because it was something that was very meaningful and continues to be to me. But, I never expected it to be a career direction and it became one for a while. I keep sort of falling into these things a little bit unexpectedly.

And even what I’m doing now which is almost a little bit jazz, wasn’t something that I thought, when I was doing ’You Light Up My Life,’ I’d ever be doing. But, I feel more comfortable doing this than anything I’ve ever done so far.

A turning point

BeBe: Well, we all fall into different things as our lives evolve. I don’t think that what has happened to you is any different than the life changes we all go through. Yours just happens to be more publicly in music.

Debby Boone: I think you are exactly right.

BeBe: Speaking of your theater work, most of the roles you took on stage were probably what most of us in the public would have expected you to do with the image we had of you. I mean ’Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,’ ’The Sound of Music,’ ’Camelot,’ ’South Pacific,’ ’The King and I’ are all classic wholesome musicals we can see Debby Boone doing. But then you did a couple of things that were so against type for you. You played Rizzo in the 1990 revival production of ’Grease,’ and that was preceded by a television movie role in ’Sins of the Past,’ co-starring Kim Cattrall (’Sex and the City’), where you portrayed a prostitute.

Debby Boone: ( a roar of laughter) Those were so fun for me to do partly because they were so unexpected, not that I was trying to shock people, but it was a way for me to stretch myself in playing characters against type a little bit. I was asked to do Rizzo, a role I was familiar with from the movie ’Grease,’ but when I read the play, the role was a lot more edgy than the movie ever was. Then I thought ’can I really do this? Will people be disappointed?’

That was a real turning point for me in realizing that we’re acting here. It’s not like I’ve become this new person that people are going to say that’s not what we signed on for. I loved the whole actual message of the show ’Grease.’ The show itself has some interesting things to say. But basically, it was a whole lot of fun. And, ’Sins of the Past’ I knew going into the audition not only was I going to be playing a hooker, but a hooker that had had a major transformation and ended up being a singer for an evangelist (we both laugh loudly). This can only be done in the movies.

Family business

BeBe: To deviate a little, you are from a celebrity singing family and your husband is as well from a celebrity family being the son of actor Jose Ferrer and legendary singer Rosemary Clooney. I find it interesting that in your union together you’ve been able to have a family that maintains a rather normal, non-celebrity family life. Beyond seeing you and the kids on the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine often, there wasn’t much celebrity exposure of your family going on. Nowadays if you are a celebrity family, you have a Reality-TV show. How have you and your husband, Gabriel, been able to keep your family from the celebrity limelight?

Debby Boone: I certainly had that modeled to me very well growing up. My dad was very, very high profile and very much in the public eye. Even though we (the sisters - The Boone Girls) did do television shows with him and began to perform with him by the time I was a young teenager, our home life was so normal. (It) was so not typical of a show business family, which enabled kids to do whatever and have whatever.

My parents were very moderate in that way. I had chores and rules and standards and allowance. I had to learn a great deal of responsibility, which I am very grateful for to this day. I knew that would be a very important thing for my own kids (4, one son and three daughters) to not see themselves as better than, or different in any way than any other person. And that hard work is important. Respect is important. Caring and compassion, all those things that I grew up learning were key to our existence, I wanted my kids to have that. My husband I give the most credit to because he has been an incredible father. (He’s) very willing to be supportive in my career even in those rude times when people would call him ’Mr. Boone’ which isn’t his name. He knew about those kinds of things because he grew up around it and he didn’t take it personally. He was so willing to be there for the kids and I was working and couldn’t be. Together, I think we were able to do something that wasn’t easy but we are so proud of our four kids. It wasn’t perfect. We made mistakes. My kids made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes, but I think we gave them a good running start.

Moving to swing

BeBe: The foundation is very important. If you have a good foundation, you can build a different house on it as many times as you want.

Debby Boone: You’re right. I like that!

BeBe: Getting back to your music and what you are doing these days. As you mentioned earlier that stuff you have entered into performing now is another move away from Pop, Country and Inspirational music. I am aware that you recorded a duet with your mother-in-law Rosemary Clooney on your Christmas album ’Home For Christmas,’ and after her passing, you recorded a tribute album to her called ’Reflections of Rosemary’ in 2005 which contained many of the songs associated with Clooney and others you chose to do because they showed the kind of person she was. Were these recordings with and about Rosemary Clooney the beginnings of the turning point you now see yourself in musically with the standard/jazz recordings on ’Swing This!’ ?

Debby Boone: Absolutely. I had been exposed to so much of that fabulous music by Rosemary herself in getting to work with her from time to time, so I was very well acquainted with her music. Director John Oddo who worked with me on the ’Reflections of Rosemary.’ It was really working on that CD and touring with the music from that CD that I felt it was like this homecoming of where I started and where I wanted to end up.

When I say where I started, I mean I’ve always been drawn to this music even as a young girl. When my friends were listening to other kinds of music, I was listening to Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. So Rosemary’s music just resonated with me in such a powerful way. And, to get to do it so personally in that tribute, I knew I had sort of found my way to what I really wanted to be doing. So, it was a natural progression after doing that (tribute). While ’Swing This!’ is keeping with that style of music, the feel is more upbeat and high energy and fun rather than kind of bitter sweet. There are times I go ’what took you so long’ to find this part of myself musically, but I’m here now bringing a lot more life and a richer quality to it than I ever could have in my early 20s doing this music. It has its place and time.

Making a difference

BeBe: It sounds like you have another swing-type of album left in you. Will there be another album?

Debby Boone: Oh yes, I will continue working with John (Oddo).

BeBe: I know you use your talents to perform at numerous benefits of which raising money to assist families affected by AIDS and those infected by AIDS is just one of them. What does your involvement in these types of benefits mean to you?

Debby Boone: You know what, truly one of the most enriching parts of having an entertainment career is being able to donate your time and talent to organizations you believe in and are doing so much for people who have great need. I get to do what I love and it ends up helping someone. It’s a privilege to be able to use one’s talent and make a difference like that.

Debby Boone will be performing along with Jai Rodriguez, Bruce Vilanch, X-Factor alum Jason Brock, Shawn Ryan and more at the Help Is On The Way For The Holidays XII Holiday Gala benefiting The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation on Dec. 9 at the Marines’ Memorial Theater in San Francisco. For more information and tickets go to www.HelpIsOnTheWay.org

Upcoming Debby Boone tour stops:

12/14 Christmas Memories Niswonger Performing Arts Center Greeneville,TN
12/29-30 Reflections of Rosemary Palmer Events Center
Austin, TX
2/28/14 Swing This Richmond Hill PAC
Richmond Hill, Ontario Canada

For more on Debby Boone’s tour schedule and new music follow her at www.DebbyBoone.net

Based out of San Francisco, BEBE SWEETBRIAR is the Omni Present Drag Chanteuse. As an entertainer and hostess, BeBe can be scene every week hosting and performing at countless events and parties in the San Francisco. One of the few drag personalities to sing live while performing, BeBe has literally graced every notable stage in San Francisco, bridging many gay sub-community gaps. She has also been the opening act for Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland, "Ugly Betty’s" Alec Mapa and Dance Diva Kristine W. Adding recording artist to her list of performance accomplishments in 2008 with the release of her first single "Save Me", Ms. Sweetbriar will soon release her fifth dance single in 2012 called "Show It Off"..
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.


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