Clairette Clementino:
The Little Girl with the Big Voice

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by Ken Friedman

Author: Like many folks who visit this site, I am fascinated with great music that never got its due. It is in this regard I first learned of Clairette Clementino. A true California girl who started her singing career at a very young age, she recorded nine singles over a period of about four years. I can't explain why her strong voice and the professional support she received did not add up to some national chart action, but that's a tale told far too often. I was fortunate enough to find Clairette living not far from where she grew up. More astounding is that no one else had ever sought her out to ask about her singing career. Over the course of what proved to be two entirely delightful phone calls, Clairette told me all about her days in the biz….

Where did you grow up, and what are your earliest recollections of music?

I grew up in Marin County, California, about 40 miles north of San Francisco. I don't personally recall this, but my parents would say that even at a very early age I would sing for anybody in earshot. Repairmen would come to the house and I'd sing for them. I loved to sing and still do.

Who influenced you most?

My favorite singers of the time were Connie Francis, Anita Bryant, Edie Gorme, Dinah Washington and especially Ella Fitzgerald.

Those are all singers with big pipes. I hear similar qualities in your singing.

Yes… "The little girl with the big voice."

Was that a marketing pitch they were using for you at the time?

Yes it was. I think the idea that I had such a big voice at an early age, was one approach to sell my records.

How did your career begin?

A fellow named Paul Marcucci had a summer resort in Sonoma. There were several talent shows held there and elsewhere. That ultimately led to meeting Tommy Oliver, and from there, to getting signed to Encore Records. Tommy had a partner named Tony Asher, who later worked with the Beach Boys, of course. He also worked with Doris Day and Vicki Carr. I had some appearances on the KPIX Hollywood Dance Party TV, hosted by Dick Stewart. For those shows I was accompanied by Eddie Paul on the piano. His real name is Eddie Wetteland, and he lives quite near to where my husband, Ken and I live today. He's still out there, playing piano in cabarets. Eddie's son, John, played major league baseball for the Yankees, the Expos and others.

Tommy Oliver had a busy career to be sure. I believe he worked with the Captain and Tennille, and Donny and Marie Osmond, later on.

After I got signed to Encore, there were trips to Los Angeles. I appeared on a variety show there. I can't remember the name, but it was hosted by Bob Eubanks, and broadcast on KTLA.

Do you recall any co-stars on either the KPIX or KTLA shows?

I do remember one guy, who, like me, was very young, and was being groomed for bigger things. His name was Wayne Newton. We became friends because of our common experiences.

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Let's talk about your recordings. My research tells me you had nine singles on three labels over the course of four years. This sounds like lots of people felt like you had something special going on. Your first single was My Reason for Living b/w You've Been Telling Our Secrets (Encore 1201) from 1961.

"My Reason for Living" was written by Norm Ratner. I was twelve when that was recorded.

That's amazing! You had such a powerful voice! Twelve is a very tender age to begin a professional singing career. Do you recall if your age was a positive or a negative? Were you treated well?

Well, I was quite young, so naturally I pretty much did what I was told. It was hard for me sometimes, when I just wanted to be a kid like everyone else my age. I didn't like being treated differently by my friends just because I was making records. Honestly, I have to say though; everybody I worked with throughout my career treated me nicely.

Your second single was I Can't Believe (That You're In Love With Me) b/w Teenage Fair (Encore 1204) from 1962.

Yes, "Teenage Fair" was a song about Pacific Palisades Park. The sleeve not only has a picture of me, but also the back of a guy's head. I recall it was Tony Asher who did that shot. Tommy Oliver produced those first two singles. I recall that Joanie Sommers did the arranging. She was the singer on one of the "Name That Tune" shows, did some big time Pepsi jingles ("For Those That Think Young!") and performed on a lot of variety programs.

Next up were I Don't Want To Cry (in Front of You) b/w Roller Coaster Romeo (Encore 1210), and It's a Pity to Say Goodnight b/w Guilty (ENCORE 1302) both also from 1962.

Tony Asher wrote "I Don't Want to Cry (in Front of You)." "Guilty" is an old standard from the 1930's.

Those were your last singles for Encore. What led to getting signed by Capitol, and how was that a different experience?

Well, there was an audition, and I was signed by Clive Davis. As I recall, nobody got more than two sessions with Capitol in those days. If your records didn't sell by then, that was it. Somehow, I managed to get four sessions. I also got to meet Brian Wilson. He was really nice, very down-to-earth. I got to sit in on other people's sessions at Capitol, the Lettermen, Dick Dale to name two.

You had four singles on Capitol:

Ev'rywhere b/w See Me (Capitol 5003) 1963
Adonis b/w Bless My Soul (Capitol 5081) 1963
It's Happening to Me b/w Since I Fell in Love with You (Capitol 5177) 1964
He Don't Want Your Love Anymore b/w Never Love A Wandering Boy (Capitol 5276) 1964

Yes, there was a push on "Ev'rywhere." I opened a beach show for the Angels in Santa Cruz right about that time. I'd always get nervous before performing, but I'd get over it once I started singing. The song charted in California, Michigan and Canada, I believe. Of all those songs, "Bless My Soul" is my favorite. Some big name contract people worked on my records. Bert Kaempfert co-wrote "It's Happening to Me." Stu Phillips was the producer and arranger for "He Don't Want Your Love Anymore" as well as "It's Happening to Me" and "Since I Fell In Love with You." Jimmie Haskell and Jim Economides were around as well. Haskell arranged "Never Love a Wandering Boy" for example. That was a British song that we found and chose for the B-side. "Adonis" was also recorded by Petula Clark.

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By this time, the British Invasion was already in full swing. How did you react to that new sound?

Everyone knew the business had really changed. But, that said, I really liked the Beatles' records. We all did! I took some satisfaction that I was on the same label as the Beatles!

Your last single was With All My Heart b/w Lollipops and Roses (Colpix 797) from 1964. With All My Heart was adapted from an Italian song called Gondolier and was previously a hit for Jodie Sands in 1957.

Yes, I'm surprised how much I'm remembering. I can tell you that Del Shannon and Bobby Hart sang background vocals on "With All My Heart." They were brought in by Bob Marcucci, who is best known for discovering Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Lou Christie. "Lollipops and Roses" had been recorded by many people.

Never Love a Wandering Boy is quite different from your other tunes. It has a musical, Western style. Since I Fell in Love with You has a little honky-tonk country piano. See Me has a saucy vocal. Through it all it seems you dabbled in a variety of styles…classic Brill building pop, punchier pop tunes, a cabaret style, and some C&W inflected material. Perhaps your producers were working toward finding your commercial niche. Do you recall at the time your material being diverse?

Yes, even then I knew this. They were trying very hard to find my audience, as they would with any artist.

Your career was not limited to studio sessions, based on your KPIX and KTLA work, and the Santa Cruz show. Because of your young age, were you kept off bigger tours?

I pretty much stayed in California, but I sang everywhere I could. My mother would always be there. I made two appearances on the Groucho Marx show. In 1966 I was on a local bill with Lawrence Welk. Mr. Welk asked me if I would join his orchestra. It was a great honor to be asked, but it would have meant moving to Los Angeles. It was my senior year in high school, and I really didn't want to interrupt that. So, I declined, and that turned out to be a good thing, because I met my husband-to-be six months later.

Tell me what you've been up to once you finished making records.

By 1968 I was in Nashville and I did a lot of jingle work. My manager was a man named Hubert Long, the same guy who managed the Louisiana Hayride, and signed Faron Young. Most of what I did was for the local market there. I did a fried chicken jingle! I was also commissioned to sing "Music City USA" by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. I did demos under the name Claire Christie as well. These were produced by Audie Ashford. Owen Bradley of Decca also had a hand; he had previously done arrangements for Patsy Cline. When I think about it, that was when I really began enjoying music. Maybe it was because the pressure was off. After that I settled down to raise my family and be active in my community. Currently I am president of the Marin County Board of Education.

Are you aware that some of your recordings have been re-issued on compilations?

Yes, every now and again I will get on the Internet and look around. It's fun to see that, to know that there's still an audience that music. Most of all, I still love to sing.

Author: After about an hour so of Q&A, Clairette turned the tables on the interviewer and sent a question in my direction. It was a simple one… "Why Me?" Despite producing some wonderful music and brushing shoulders with so many musical luminaries, she remains surprised that anyone would really care.

Special thanks from to Ken Friedman for providing this little-known story of a terrific artist! -- Ed.

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