Posts tagged ‘Francie Mendenhall’

Back To Cloud Hill

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.
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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.
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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
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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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January 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm 9 comments

Golds, Dings…and Vets — Then and Now

As a sidebar to The Golddiggers Super Site‘s feature story this Veterans Day Weekend, covering the most recent efforts on behalf of Vets by Dean Martin Show grads Michelle DellaFave and Lindsay Bloom, we at Dean, Golds and Dings herewith present a gallery of additional, related images — including:

• Historic photos from the 1971 USMA Yearbook documenting performances at West Point just before Christmas 1970 by The Golddiggers and The Dingaling Sisters, as part of Bob Hope’s USO Tour

• Shots of Golddiggers and Dingaling Sisters alumnae appearing at a number of much more recent Veterans-related events…

The Golddiggers at West Point, Christmas 1970

(above, l. to r.) Janice Whitby, Paula Cinko, Francie Mendenhall; Rosetta Cox, Jackie Chidsey, Liz Kelley
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(below, l. to r.) Janice Whitby, Paula Cinko, Francie Mendenhall

(above, l. to r.) Janice Whitby (background); Rosetta Cox, Jackie Chidsey, Liz Kelley (foreground)
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(below) The Golds gather around host Bob Hope

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The Dingaling Sisters at West Point, Christmas 1970


(above, l. to r.) Tara Leigh, Susan Lund, Wanda Bailey, Michelle DellaFave
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Bob Hope Leads His Troupe in The Traditional “Silent Night” Close of His Christmas Show, at West Point, Christmas 1970

(above, l. to r.) Rosetta Cox, Janice Whitby, Patricia Mickey, Johnny Bench, Jackie Chidsey, Francie Mendenhall, Major General William A. Knowlton (Superintendent of West Point), Bobbi Martin, Bob Hope, Gloria Loring, Lola Falana, Susie Lund, Tara Leigh, Michelle DellaFave, Wanda Bailey
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Springfield, Illinois — July 2007

(above, l. to r.) Susan Lund, Michelle DellaFave, and Wanda Bailey display the medals they received from the Vietnam Veterans of America after their concert for the organization’s 2007 national convention — the first performance by any set of Dingaling Sisters in over three decades.
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Washington, DC — Veterans Day Weekend, 2007


In conjunction with ceremonies commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Michelle DellaFave scores a hat trick, first performing with her alma mater ensemble, The Golddiggers, including Jackie Chidsey (above left) and Nancy Reichert (above right), in the largest on-stage gathering of the group since the early ’70s…
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…then joining Dingaling Sisters Susie Lund (above left) and Wanda Bailey (above right) for an encore of “Do The Funky Chicken”…
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…and finally, teaming with another onetime Dingaling Sister and good friend, Lindsay Bloom (above right), to unveil the premiere of the first new group to be spun off from either The Golddiggers or Dingaling Sisters in 37 years, Blue Eyed Soul.
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Michelle DellaFave at The 40th Reunion of The West Point Class of ’71


At the invitation of the class’ Frank Durrum (above right), Michelle performed for an enthusiastic audience of over 400 USMA graduates and their families. And both before and after the concert, she was graciously escorted by another member of the ’71 class, Chris Clarke (below left).

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Washington, DC — Veterans Day 2011

(above) Lindsay joins Marine Vets for a round of Veterans Day events.
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Somewhere There’s A Someone…


In some ways it was improbable, but perhaps in others, it was inevitable, that at some point during the course of their cross-country travels entertaining and doing other good works for both Veterans and active-duty U.S. military personnel, Michelle and Lindsay would run into a soldier named…You guessed it — DEAN MARTIN!! And indeed, there he is above, happily sandwiched between the two Dings. Add another pair and we’re ready for a medley.

For those who’d like to, but haven’t yet had a chance, to see the original Golddiggers Super Site article on Michelle and Lindsay’s latest efforts on behalf of America’s Veterans, here’s a link to the piece:

Michelle and Lindsay’s Labor of Love for The Vets

And to stay up-to-date on all that’s happening with Michelle, Lindsay, The Golds, The Dings, and of course, Dean Martin, why not click the LIKE button atop our Facebook page and then either take part in the conversation or just sit back and enjoy it:

November 13, 2011 at 7:15 pm 3 comments


Deans, Golds and Dings on Facebook