Mary Cleere Haran, Cabaret Singer With a Big-Band Style

Mary Cleere Haran
Mary Cleere Haran, a classic popular singer and writer much admired for her cabaret shows celebrating the American songbook, died on Saturday at a hospital in Deerfield Beach, Fla., two days after a cycling accident.

She was 58 and was living in Florida, having taken a break from a career that saw her perform in every major New York supper club.

Ms. Haran was struck from the side by a car coming out of a driveway after dropping off her résumé at a hotel, according to a friend, Bridge McIntyre. She never regained consciousness.

A singer of remarkable purity whose simple unaffected pop-jazz style echoed big band singers of the 1940s, most notably Ella Fitzgerald, Ms. Haran made her Manhattan cabaret debut in 1988 at the now-defunct Ballroom. Swinging lightly, she eschewed melodramatic posturing to deliver deep, thoughtful interpretations of standards by Rodgers and Hart, Harry Warren, the Gershwins and others. She had a special love of the wry, wistful lyrics of Hart to whom she paid tribute in two different shows.

Her stage personality reflected the upbeat, can-do spirit (with zany screwball touches) and subdued glamour of long-ago film stars like Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert. Much as she admired those actresses, her attitude was not that of a besotted fan but of a modern woman with a feminist sensibility who refracted the past through the present.

Comparing Lorenz Hart's lyrics with Richard Rodgers to Oscar Hammerstein's in her 2002 show at “Falling in Love With Love: The Rodgers and Hart Story" she remarked that Hammerstein's lyrics told us what we “should feel" versus Hart's, which told us what “we did feel."

A particular singing idol was Doris Day, whom she interviewed in a PBS documentary, “Doris Day: Sentimental Journey," which she also wrote and co-produced. She contributed to the PBS documentaries “Remembering Bing," “Irving Berlin's America," “When We Were Young: The Lives of Child Movie Stars," and “Satchmo."

Doris Day was the subject of Ms. Haran's acclaimed 2007 show at Feinstein's at the Loews Regency, where she made her last major appearance in late 2009 with a Johnny Mercer tribute.

Some of the pianists who accompanied her included Bill Charlap, Don Rebic, Fred Hersch, Lee Musiker and Tedd Firth. But her most frequent partner was Richard Rodney Bennett.

The second of eight children in an Irish Catholic family, Ms. Haran was the daughter of a professor of theater and film at San Francisco City College and grew up enthralled by the music and movies of the 1930s and '40s. As a teenager, she was a champion Irish step dancer.

She moved to New York in the 1970s and made her theatrical debut as a band singer in “The 1940s Radio Hour" and appeared off Broadway in “Manhattan Music," “Swingtime Canteen" and “Heebie Jeebies." On television, she had a recurring role as a nightclub singer in the series “100 Centre Street."

She married twice. Her son, Jacob, from her second marriage, to the writer and director Joe Gilford, whom she divorced, survives her, as do six siblings: Terence, Bronwyn Harris, Brigid, Ned, Tim, and Eithne Bullick; an uncle, Ed McCarthy; an aunt, Patty Lautze; and several nieces and nephews. She is also survived by her stepmother, Loyce Haran.

Ms. Haran made her recording debut in 1992 on Columbia with “There's a Small Hotel: Live at the Algonquin." Later albums included “This Funny World: Mary Cleere Haran Sings Lyrics by Hart" (1995), “This Heart of Mine: Classic Movie Songs of the Forties" (1994), “Pennies From Heaven: Movie Songs From the Depression Era" (1998), “The Memory of All That: Gershwin Broadway and in Hollywood" (1999), and “Crazy Rhythm: Manhattan in the '20s" (2002).

For one of her most popular shows, “An Affair to Remember," in 1994, Ms. Haran visited the 1950s to deconstruct the decade's cultural iconography and affectionately chastise its films for their lack of humor. She joked that she preferred Cole Porter musicals which portrayed “fun, sex and money as the most important things in life" to the heavier message shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

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