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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Doris Day--An appreciation

Doris Day sings "Secret Love" in "Calamity Jane"

One of the most overused words today is “icon,” but it surely applies to Doris Day.

“A legendary actress, singer, and philanthropist, Doris Day was one of the most cherished entertainers of all time,” noted the Recording Academy’s president/CEO Neil Portnow upon Day’s death Monday at 97.

“Best known for her success in the television and film industries, Doris also achieved status as a recording star,” continued Portnow. “Throughout her illustrious career she recorded several hits, including the Grammy Hall Of Fame-inducted songs ‘Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)’ and ‘Secret Love,’ received two Grammy nominations, and was honored with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for her significant impact on the music industry. Her infectious spirit and vibrant works of art have made a lasting impression worldwide.”

Music historian John Alexander, who regularly included Day songs in the pop music anthologies he compiled for Reader’s Digest Music, hails Day as “a true multi-talented performer who excelled in almost every area of the entertainment industry, most notably her string of classic movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s and her popular television series [The Doris Day Show] that ran into the ‘70s.”

“But people may not realize what an incredible music career she enjoyed,” says Alexander. “Starting as a big band singer in the ‘40s and scoring two No. 1 hits with Les Brown and His Orchestra, she possessed one of the most distinctive and beautiful voices of her generation. I made sure to include a few Doris Day favorites on almost every Reader’s Digest compilation of songs from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.”

He singles out “Sentimental Journey” and “Secret Love” for being the titles of two of the most successful Reader’s Digest boxed sets, while “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” was one of the label’s top-ranked songs in any genre.

“Her version of ‘When I Fall in Love’ is among her finest recordings,” notes Alexander, adding, “Doris Day’s catalog of songs is unparalleled and I believe that just might be her greatest legacy.”

Day’s contemporary Tony Bennett, via Twitter, called Day “a wonderful friend and a lovely and very talented lady. We will miss her beautiful smile and it was such a thrill to appear on The Doris Day Show back in 1970.”

But even The Beatles’ Paul McCartney—like Day, a committed animal lover—was effusive in his praise of the songstress.

“She was a true star in more ways than one,” McCartney wrote on his website. “I had the privilege of hanging out with her on a few occasions. Visiting her in her Californian home was like going to an animal sanctuary where her many dogs were taken care of in splendid style. She had a heart of gold and was a very funny lady who I shared many laughs with. Her films like Calamity Jane, Move Over, Darling and many others were all incredible and her acting and singing always hit the mark. I will miss her but will always remember her twinkling smile and infectious laugh as well as the many great songs and movies she gave us.”

McCartney’s Beatle partner John Lennon, tweeted May Pang, loved watching her films. Of the current generation, meanwhile, singer-songwriter Nellie McKay actually recorded an entire album of Day’s songs (Normal as Blueberry Pie--A Tribute to Doris Day (2009), save for one McKay original (“If I Ever Had a Dream”) honoring Day and penned for the project.

“It was so difficult choosing material because she recorded a treasure trove of songs and orchestrations and styles,” says McKay. ”Of course, I’d grown up with her and loved her voice, movies and autobiography, and it was just a delight making that record.”

McKay, too, is an animal rights activist, and in recognition, has received PETA’s Humanitarian Award and the Humane Society’s Doris Day Music Award. She also reviewed the book Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro (2007) for The New York Times and is one of the few in recent years to have interviewed Day (for Bark magazine in 2006).

“She sounded just like Doris Day!” recalls McKay. “That nice, smooth, purr of a speaking voice as well as singing voice. It was remarkable!”

She and Day spoke about the Doris Day Animal League and Doris Day Animal Foundation.

“She was so ahead of the game in her commitment and concern for animals,” says McKay. “She really devoted her life to animal rights. She was a singer, dancer, movie star—and then did so much good, too.”

"Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)"



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