Back To Cloud Hill

January 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm 9 comments

Francie Mendenhall Bday 2013
(above) The luminous Francie Mendenhall, whose birthday is today, was the lead vocalist on many of The Golddiggers’ musical numbers — including one that underwent a rather interesting eleventh-hour metamorphosis. Details, as well as a stereo cut of the song’s final version, follow in the story below.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Thus muses Juliet, frustrated that her beloved Romeo bears a family name that’s anathema to her own family, in Shakespeare’s play about star-crossed romance.

But what about a song? Or, for that matter, its lyrics? How sweet might a tune with which we’re all familiar be if it had a different title or words?

The question arose recently when Michelle DellaFave, a regular cast member on The Dean Martin Show for 4 years and in the lineups of both The Golddiggers and The Dingaling Sisters during that period, was going through some of the treasured mementos of her sister, Tanya DellaFave, herself one of The Golddiggers from 1971 to ’72, who sadly passed away back in 1984.

It was in a loose-leaf binder in which her sister kept her sheet music from her Golddigger days that Michelle found a song with an unfamiliar title: “Fern Hill”. But a closer examination of the pages revealed lyrics and a melody that, to any fan of The Golddiggers’ recordings, would immediately ring a bell.

Apparently, “Fern Hill” was the working title of the piece, but handwritten revisions to the text indicated that the song’s composers — Lee Hale (The Golddiggers’ Musical Director) and his frequent coauthor, Geoffrey Clarkson — had made a last-minute decision to change the title to “Cloud Hill”.

Under that name, the song went on to become one of The Golddiggers’ most memorable numbers — a dreamy, reflective ballad featuring a mellifluous, exquisitely-rendered lead vocal by the troupe’s standout soloist, Francie Mendenhall. In fact, Francie tells us that before changing the original title, Lee Hale had asked the girls if they had any suggestions for an alternative, and fittingly, it was Francie herself who came up with “Cloud Hill”.

The tune was captured on vinyl for The Golddiggers…Today!, the group’s third album release, and brought to life on the home screen during the first season of their syndicated television series, Chevrolet Presents The Golddiggers, with an impressionistic interpretation that interwove Francie’s singing with a sensitive, graceful balletic accompaniment performed by her colleague, Janice Whitby.

Fern Hill
In reviewing the archives of Tanya DellaFave, who performed with The Golddiggers from 1971-72, her sister, Michelle DellaFave, herself an alumna of both The Golddiggers and The Dingaling Sisters, made a discovery that affords a rare glimpse into the songwriting process. Shown above is a photocopy of the first page of the original sheet music given to members of the ’71-’72 Golddiggers for their parts in a ballad originally entitled “Fern Hill“. As evidenced by the cross-outs on the page, the name was in the end changed to the pleasanter-sounding “Cloud Hill”, and the song was recorded with a superb lead vocal by Francie Mendenhall.
On an episode of their weekly half-hour program Chevrolet Presents The Golddiggers, telecast during the 1971-72 season, as Francie sang “Cloud Hill”, her colleague Janice Whitby (below) drew upon her ballet training to limn an elegant physical realization of the song.
Janice Whitby, Cloud Hill

So, would the fragrance of this beautiful rose have been just as sweet had Lee Hale and Geoff Clarkson retained their original title “Fern Hill”, instead of adopting the more ethereal-sounding “Cloud Hill”? Would Francie’s voice have been any less pretty? Would Janice’s terpsichore have been any less delicate? Would the tune have lost any of its melodic luster? Probably not.

Yet in terms of poetic imagery, it’s hard not to think of “Cloud Hill”, in place of “Fern Hill”, as a more enticing destination to which one would long to return.

We wish the full audiovisual experience of “Cloud Hill”, as it was originally presented on The Golddiggers’ show, were available on DVD. But as the next best thing, in honor of Francie’s birthday today, we’ve appended below the LP version of the song, containing every note of her beautiful vocals in stereo; and thanks to Jan Whitby, we’re able to display a still picture of her majestic ballet accompaniment.

In closing, we want to wish Francie Mendenhall a very Happy, Healthy Birthday, and Many, Many More.

And hopefully, one day somewhere, still waiting there, will be those Golddiggers shows that we all loved so…And then back to Cloud Hill we all will go.

Listen to Francie Mendenhall and The Golddiggers sing “Cloud Hill”:

To increase the volume, drag the bars to the left of the audio player (they appear after you click the play button) all the way to the right.

Janice, Francie, Bob Hope
The two members of The Golddiggers who collaborated to make “Cloud Hill“ come alive on TV — Francie Mendenhall (right) and Janice Whitby  left) — flank Bob Hope during one of their ensemble’s performances as part of the comedian’s 1970 USO Tour, entertaining American military personnel around the world. Also pictured over Hope’s shoulder is Golddigger Jackie Chidsey.
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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michelle DellaFave  |  January 5, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Written beautifully for someone who sings and is as beautiful… Happy Birthday Francie!

  • 2. francie  |  January 5, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Thank you Sooooo much!. Have to say that Lee Hale asked us all in a rehearsal what new name might be given to the tune. I thought “Cloud Hill” and Lee liked it!

  • 3. Janice Whitby  |  January 5, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    This was the most beautiful song (written by Lee and Geoffrey Clarkson) and sung with such sensitivity by my dear friend Francie. What a joy to dance to! Happy Birthday Francie!

  • 4. francie  |  January 5, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you dear friend~You’re so very talented!

  • 5. Geneel  |  January 6, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    She was amazing and still is…. Happy Birthday Francie !!
    It seems like just yesterday. Love you !

  • 6. francie  |  January 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you!! Mwaaa!

  • 7. Video Vision  |  January 14, 2013 at 2:37 am

    from Dean Golds and Dings on Facebook:

    Michelle DellaFave Beautiful!!

    Mark A. Lauer There sure were a lot of very pretty gals in the Golddiggers.

    Liz Kelley-Hansen Happy Birthday to my Buddy!

    Neil Badders Lovely!

    Liz Melton OMG! Thank you!

    Francie Mendenhall Thanks ya’ll!

    Karen Aydelotte-Jones Just Beautiful!


  • 8. John-Charles Kelly  |  January 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Lovely to hear your voice again, old friend! It still makes me think of “Funky Rolls-Royce”!!! John-Charles

  • 9. francie  |  January 24, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks sweetie!

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