By Don Heckman
Like everyone else who ever heard Mary Cleere Haran perform, I was stunned last weekend to see the news of her death. It couldn’t have happened in a more unlikely, even absurd, fashion. Riding a bicycle in Florida, where she’s been taking a break from performing, she was struck by a car pulling out of a driveway. Two days later, she was gone, having never regained consciousness.
Gone with her was a gorgeous voice, a free-roving musical imagination and a dedicated advocacy for the music of the Great American Songbook. Mary Cleere brought that music vividly to life — music we’d heard over and over again from every imaginable source. Yet, when she sang Gershwin or Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter — to name only a few — she found the beating heart of the music, the intimate details of the lyrics, literally brought the song to life.
Add to that her snap crackling wit and whimsy. Somebody once described her as “the wittiest performer to ever interrupt a punch line with a song.” And there was a lot of truth to the comment, if only because her punch lines were as well crafted as her songs. I reviewed her twice for the Los Angeles Times, back in the ’90s, and enjoyed every minute — even when her backing wasn’t what it should have been, even when she performed in spite of a cold that limited her usual far-ranging voice.
I wish I’d had more chances to hear her in action. I wish she’d had more chances to continue to work her art. Yes, it’s fortunate that we have a few recordings — although not enough. But Mary Cleere will be missed, wherever there are people who care about the beauty of American song and the importance of its survival.
To read the Mary Cleere obituary I wrote for the Los Angeles Times click HERE.