From her Tony-winning title role in Broadway’s Hello, Dolly! to one of her signature songs, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” – sung on film by Marilyn Monroe and covered in 1983 by Emmylou Harris – Carol Channing’s effervescent presence on the stage and in film and TV roles was accompanied by an unmistakably unique voice, making her one of the most recognizable entertainers of the past half-century.
Channing, who died Tuesday at her home at age 97, made numerous appearances on both the big and small screens and, apart from cast recordings for the many shows in which she appeared, also sang on other albums of Broadway tunes and selections from the Great American Songbook. She also sang or read stories on a number of albums for children. But in the late Seventies Channing made her way to Music City to recorded with several country stars on projects released by Plantation Records, the label that scored a huge hit with Jeannie C. Riley’s version of the Tom T. Hall tune “Harper Valley PTA.”
By 1977, artists signed to the Plantation label included country legend Webb Pierce and Grand Ole Opry stars Jimmy C. Newman and Hank Locklin, as well as Opry cast members and artists whose biggest hits were mostly behind them. That year, Channing left the Great White Way for Music Row, recording first with Pierce on the cleverly titled LP C&W — their first-name initials as well as the abbreviation of the now-outdated term “country and western.” The single “Got You on My Mind” previously recorded by Jim Reeves, Hawkshaw Hawkins and others was thick with steel guitar, but perhaps hampered by the odd pairing of voices, failed to chart.
Channing’s next collaboration was an entire album of duets for the label. Released in 1978, Carol Channing and Her Country Friends featured the singer sharing vocals with Locklin and Newman, with an additional appearance from Plantation’s Rita Remington on two cuts, including Shel Silverstein’s “One’s on the Way,” popularized by Loretta Lynn. Locklin and Channing are credited as co-writers of the opening track, “Don’t Mention My Name,” and duet on cuts including “We’re Gonna Go Fishin’,” Locklin’s 1962 hit that followed his chart-topping “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” two years earlier.
In a bid to promote the album, Channing was joined by Locklin and Newman for an appearance on the syndicated TV series Spotlight, hosted by Marty Robbins. Dressed in a white cowboy hat and black-and-white bovine-patterned blouse, Channing opens the segment with a comic bit about her little black book with the names of over 100 men she wants to sing with while she’s visiting Nashville. Since the “El Paso” singer’s name is on the very first page, she and Robbins launch into a medley of tunes, which begins with Robbins introducing a smooth rendition of “Hello, Dolly!” before Channing chimes in. Robbins sings a bit of Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin,” followed by Channing offered a countrified “I’m Just a Little Girl From Little Rock,” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Slowing things down, Robbins does a verse from “Help Me Make It Through the Night” leading into Channing’s take on Mickey Newbury’s “How I Love Them Old Songs.”
The clip closes with Channing taking up her little black book again to grade the performance with Robbins, putting the finishing touch on a largely forgotten, not entirely successful but nevertheless sweetly charming chapter of an extraordinary musical life and career.