Debby Boone Interview - I conducted this interiew with Debby Boone shortly after her last visit to Chicago. She is going out on tour (and I wanted to give the tour an extra boost).
Boone has been singing and performing most of her life. She is the daughter of legendary Pat Boone and she is the daughter-in-law of another legend, the late, Rosemary Clooney. She is best known for recording the single biggest selling single of the 1970’s, “You Light Up My Life,” (the song spent a then-record breaking ten weeks in the number one position on the Billboard chart) but she has been recording and performing for the last 37 years.
She has won multiple Grammys and has recorded several top ten contemporary Christian albums. She has also performed in musical theater during her career, including extended runs of “The King & I” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
She is married to Gabriel Ferrer and is a devoted mom. She and her husband have also co-authored several children’s books.
She performs all around the nation and does an annaul Christmas show in Branson, Missouri. For more information on Debby's tour schedule, please visit http://www.debbyboone.com/ .
J: You were raised in a show business family and you lived your life in Hollywood's back yard. How did your youth, your coming of age period in that environment, influence your life and career? What was your childhood like?
D: I think probably more than most kids of celebrities that have talked about their upbringings, I think mine was more normal. Our lives were what most people would experience across the country. My parents wanted it to be that way and worked very hard to give us a normal, not show-biz-y kind of life. It was definitely a privileged life. I'm not kidding myself about that. They put us in high-end private schools and that kind of thing, but we had a real strong sense of family and the importance of family and spending time with family. We had the spiritual side of my upbringing where we were in church and had morning devotionals around a table. I mean this was back in the 50's and 60's when people actually sat at the table and ate together. My parents didn't shower us with whatever we wanted, because they could afford it. It was quite the opposite. I was able to see how hard my dad worked and how he handled his popularity and how he dealt with the people who really gave him his career in terms of buying his records and supporting his career. He was always incredibly gracious and grateful and I think that has been tremendous preparation for my own handling of my career.
J: I've been around you personally and I'm always impressed with you. You're sort of an exercise in humility by show business standards. Having been in the business a long time it's always a delight when I'm in your presence.
D: Thank you. I had a good role model.
J: One of my brother Chris' favorite songs of all time is your father's recording of "Friendly Persuasion."
D: It is a beautiful record. If it didn't have such a strong male lyric, I would definitely put that in my show. It's a gorgeous song.
J: Coming from a musical family, when did you know you had the gift for music?
D: Obviously, you know you have these gifts. Everybody has different gifts that they discover as they grow up and I think one of the ways that I discovered what I could do was also kind of a competitive, trying to find out who I was in the midst of four daughters who were dressed alike with the same exact hair cuts and marched around town looking indistinguishable except for maybe height. I was pleased that I was the only one with blond hair and blue eyes. That set me apart. I also found out that I had a bigger voice, so I then knew I could sing. That was another way that I could say this is what I do that's different than my siblings. So it was a little bit of a search for identity and a need to stand out in some way.
J: I just read about the Beatles going up on iTunes for the first time. I say that because I remember being a little kid and my older siblings loved the Beatles, and of course, I ended up loving them. What was the first record you bought?
D: You know I wish I had that good of a memory. I really don't remember what the first record I bought was. I really don't. I mean, a lot of my choices, again I don't know what this says about me, but a lot of times I just wanted so much to be different that I would choose groups that my sisters didn't like or weren't really drawn to. Also, a rebellious streak made me want to sort of like groups that I didn't think my parents would necessarily like, like the Rolling Stones and Cream. I remember loving the band Cream.
J: Oh, Eric Clapton on guitar, please!
D: Yes! My parents liked the cleaner cut bands, but I had very eclectic tastes. I would put up album covers and posters of Sly and the Family Stone, who I love to this day. Those are great recordings, but you know it was the beginning of a drug culture and I think my parents were really nervous about the kind of messages being sent in the music from that time. At the same time, as I got a little bit older, I was really drawn to Barbra Streisand, and that was out of character. I loved the Carpenters. I just remember getting really caught up listening to great vocals by Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra.
J: Well, if you could take just one album with you on that proverbial island, which one would it be?
D: That is so hard, because it just often times depends on what I'm obsessing over at the moment. One album, it might be and it's sort of blue, but it's really something that holds up, every single cut, the arrangements, the vocals and all of that. It might be because of where I'm at in my own musical career, but very possibly "In the Wee Small Hours," by Frank Sinatra. Though, it might make me really sad while alone on an island.
J: That's a great album. I love Sinatra. I heard you hosting a celebrity segment on Siriously Sinatra on XM/Sirius radio one day. I loved your recollections. I loved when you were talking about Sinatra. I particularly couldn't get over the comment about when you were pregnant, and at his home in Palm Springs. It was a great story!
D: I still have to pinch myself. I often will talk about how I got to open for him and he kind of took me under his wing to a certain degree. He invited me to appear on one of those big variety shows to raise money for children's hospitals, and that's when I stayed on the compound in Palm Springs with my husband. To be on the personal property and in the presence of Frank Sinatra -and then having dinner with Frank Sinatra, it just almost sounds like a dream rather than something that's part of my history.
J: Even fourteen years after his death he's still tremendously popular. Talent will win out. You had the biggest hit of your career, "You Light Up My Life" back in the 1970's. It clearly was a gigantic hit staying in the number one position for ten weeks. When you look back on that period, was there any one moment above all moments that stand out for you?
D: Certainly the Grammy's. To grow up watching shows like that and fantasizing that it might be you one day, but never really thinking that it would be. To be standing on the stage singing your big hit record, and what even stands out more than the actual show itself, because it was something I didn't even know they did until then, was going to the sound check and rehearsal and seeing big blown up pictures of people that I idolized in chairs where they were sitting because that's how the director got the camera crew kind of acclimated to where they would take audience reaction shots. So, I knew before I was going to walk out on stage that I was going to be looking at Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. I could see their pictures in the chairs where they would soon be sitting, and having the rehearsal and thinking, "I don't know if I can possibly come out and sing in front of those people." I was excited and nervous. Overall, it was a pretty amazing evening.
J: All of those women are talented. I came of age in the seventies so I love Linda Ronstadt. Her voice, of course is remarkable. She can do anything with that voice. Rock, pop, country, standards, opera.
D: Absolutely, and I've gotten to meet her and talk with her. She came to a play that I was doing in Arizona. I was doing "The King and I" and she came to the show with her mom.
J: She does a version of "Sisters" from White Christmas with Bette Midler. It's on Midler's tribute album to Rosemary Clooney. It's a fun version. I enjoy listening to it. Great interpretation of the song.
D: I should go back and give that a listen.
J: You seem comfortable with yourself. You've handled your life and your success well, and you've been married to the same man for three decades plus, which is an accomplishment in today's day and age. I know your family was an influence, but was there any one thing that you felt you did in your life that made you stay grounded. A marriage tip, something that you and your husband decided to make sure you always did to have a successful marriage?
D: I think I give him more credit than I can give myself, because his temperament is so wonderful. He's very even keeled, which I think makes him the perfect guy for me to be drawn to. Even people I know really well are surprised when I say that I see myself as volatile and up and down. I swing high and low, and my husband doesn't, but I only do that in front of the people I'm most secure with. My kids certainly know. He doesn't fly off the handle. He's not a guy who would ever raise his voice - even when we argue. When somebody has that kind of integrity you learn really quickly that if you say something that's sort of below the belt, you're the one who's going to pay for it down the road in feeling really horrible about yourself. I learned quickly that it would be counterproductive. I carefully choose my words when I'm upset, because of the way he is. I think one of the real keys to our relationship, and I hear so many people say this about their long-term relationships, is there is so much humor in our lives. My husband is always good for a laugh. He'll come down almost every morning to the breakfast table with our kids and do some crazy thing that would make everybody laugh. He has a great sense of humor and a real positive, optimistic style about him that keeps a real happy atmosphere around the house.
J: When picking up celebrity magazines today, I think most of us are stunned at the problems we see that so many young stars are having. Many of them seem disconnected, isolated, and even lonely, even though they are never alone. Is there any advice that you would want to offer some of these young women who are coming up and suddenly they just seem messed up? They seem troubled.
D: Well, you know, I really think I have to give my parents some real credit for me, and then quickly acknowledge that it is so different now than it was when I achieved success. Everything is magnified a hundred times now. When you're the next big thing, big is so much bigger, and paparazzi, and money and all of that is so amplified. So I think already out of the gate, it's harder for any young person that achieves a huge degree of success, because it has changed so much. I think if you don't have the gift of an already strong foundation you may feel entitled or better than someone else. Whereas you should realize you're a human being like everyone else and that your first attitude should be gratitude for what has come your way, not an entitlement. I was always raised with a sense of real responsibility that If I was going to have a voice to influence anyone that I'd better be prepared and take it very seriously. I could affect somebody else's life and choices. It is the truth that little girls look up to these stars and those girls may not have strong parental guidance and family foundations.
J: Are your children interested in following in the family footsteps into the entertainment world?
D: It looks like there's one of the four who has that entertainment gene. My youngest daughter, Tessa, was always the one of the four who loved to be around it in any way, shape or form. She loved to travel with me on the road and be back stage. She would so much rather be backstage than sitting out in an audience. Although, she loved to see people sing, and dance and act, she always wanted to be in the mix, right in the middle of it all, and also loved to be on the stage from the time she was three when we put her in our Christmas show with Rosemary Clooney (Debbie's mother-in-law). She was the one that just loved every bit of it: the dressing up, the attention, she wanted a new song every year in the concert tour. My other kids could have cared less about changing a number or even being onstage. They liked the adventure of traveling and hotel rooms, but they didn't really like being onstage in front of people like Tessa did, and does. Now she's studying and is a very gifted actress. I think people will definitely hear from her.
J: You are a beautiful woman, and you've aged well. I know how old you are. Is there some beauty secret you want to share?
D: You know what, I think that the real truth of it is, I lucked out and I got some pretty impressive genes. Look at my dad. He looks young and fit. A lot of that is genetic, but I also think that my dad instilled in us early on a kind of real responsibility to our bodies. He was always a guy that exercised, and he demanded that we eat leafy green vegetables every night with dinner.
J: With all the travel you do, do you read much? And if so, is there a book you treasure more than anything else?
D: A book? Oh my, that's like picking a favorite album. I do read a lot and I love to read, and my new obsession is audio books because I'm a slow reader. If I sit down to read, I have a metabolism, I think that's what it is, that if I sit still for any length of time no matter how much sleep I've had, I fall asleep. I just have to either be moving and doing something or I get really sleepy. So, I've discovered audio books, and I often say to people I've read so many more books now that I listen to them. I read all kinds of books. Obviously the Bible is one that I would not want to be deprived of. I read a lot of spiritual books of all different kinds. I love fiction too. I'm always working on a couple of books. My husband is an avid reader and I never understood when we were newly married how anybody could have so many books with bookmarks in them all around. How do you divide your attention among so many books? And now I do the same thing where I'll have devotional books with bookmarks in them. I have an audio book, or a couple of them that I'm listening to at the same time, and then some hard copy books. I always have about six books going at once.
J: I do that. I enjoy reading very much. My favorite devotional is Oswald Chambers' "Utmost for His Highest." That is my favorite. It's my go to no matter where I am in life; I just go there daily.
D: Yes, I have several different daily devotionals that I read through.
J: When we were talking about Sinatra before, I couldn't help thinking of an obscure recording of "Some Enchanted Evening" with Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. I don't know if you've ever heard this recording.
D: I don't think so.
J: It's pretty obscure. As a matter of fact, I tried to download it. I worked with a guy at ABC, and we both loved the Great American Song Book songs. Even though we were younger we both loved the standards. He heard the song one time and then he couldn't find it. I then found it. If you ever get your hands on it, it's just stunningly beautiful.
D: Wow, it sounds like a wonderful song to hear the two of them sing.
J: My family watches "White Christmas" faithfully every Christmas. We wouldn't go a year without viewing it. It's a true classic. Any thoughts on the film?
D: It sets the stage for the whole season. That and Charlie Brown's Christmas are the holiday favorites.
J: You perform on the road and you have lengthy stays in Branson Missouri. How did the long association with Branson come into your life?
D: I found out about Branson for the first time when my dad was working in Branson doing a musical. He was having a wonderful time in an extended run there and my parents decided to celebrate their sixtieth birthdays and their fortieth anniversary and have a family reunion all while he was there. Aunts, uncles, cousins and all my sisters and all of our kids and everybody converged on Branson to see the show and celebrate these momentous occasions. That's when we got our first taste of Branson. Of course, my manager Susan Munao was also right in the glory days of Branson. She and Tony Orlando were working together and Tony built his theater there, so I was hearing about it from Susan. The first time I performed in Branson was when Andy Williams had uncharacteristic trouble with his vocal chords and he needed to have some rest and my dad and I filled in for his Christmas season and that was the beginning of my coming to perform in Branson. That was over ten years ago and I've been here for the last couple of years during their Christmas season and I'll be there again next year.
J: Hopefully I'll be able to make it there this year. I saw you last year and it was a wonderful show.
I want to thank you so much for all the great years of music and live performances and thank you for taking the time to chat with me today
D: Thank you Judith.
I ORIGINALLY CONDUCTED THIS INTERVIEW FOR "SIGNIFICANT LIVING." COPYRIGHT 2010