Debbie Reynolds: Her 11 Best Musical Moments on Screen and on Stage
Look back at some of the late Debbie Reynolds best musical moments — from Singin' in the Rain to her chart-topping single, "Tammy"
Throughout her nearly seven decade career, Reynolds made a name for herself as a triple-threat singer, dancer, and actor — with roles in big-screen MGM musicals and Broadway shows. She was also chart-topping recording artist and dynamic live performer, who toured the country for years as a night club entertainer.
Music was an inescapable part of Reynolds career. Here are 11 of her best musical moments.
“Aba Daba Honeymoon” (1950)
Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan’s “Aba Daba Honeymoon” was first recorded in 1914, by the comic duo team of Collins and Harlan. But it was another duo who made the song a hit: Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter. Their cover of the track was featured in the 1950 film, Two Weeks with Love — and released as a single the following year. It reached no. 3 on the 1951 Billboard charts. Its chorus — “Aba daba daba daba daba daba dab said the chimpie to the monk / Baba daba daba daba daba daba dab said the monkey to the chimp” — may be silly, but Reynolds and Carpenter sure sold the heck out of it.
“Good Morning” (1952)
It’s hard to believe Reynolds was just 19-years-old when 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain was released. Her first leading role, Reynolds had no dance experience at the time — and was given just three months to learn what costars Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor had perfected over years in their careers. One would never be able to tell, of course. Just watch her move her way through tap, ballet, and even hula — all while outshining her costars — in one of the film’s greatest numbers, “Good Morning.”
“Where Did You Learn To Dance?” (1953)
Now that she was “a dancer,” Reynolds didn’t stop. Re-teaming with O’Connor in 1953’s I Love Melvin, Reynolds showed off her new moves in the charming dance duet, “Where Did You Learn to Dance?” The answer may be “in rehearsals for Singing in the Rain” but Reynolds still comes off like an old pro.
“Dream Ballet” (1954)
Who doesn’t love a good dream ballet? In 1954’s romantic comedy Susan Slept Here, Reynolds played a juvenile delinquent named Susan who finds herself falling for a struggling Hollywood scriptwriter (Dick Powell) — despite his long-time fiancée. Queue the dream ballet, where Reynolds swings from a bird-cage perch before freeing herself and pursing to rescue Powell from the web of his engagement. It’s a colorful and over-the-top sequence that Reynolds completely sells.
After nearly a decade on screen, Reynolds would earn her first no. 1 song and first gold record with “Tammy” — a track by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans off her 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor. The sweet song spent 24 weeks on the charts (five of them in the top spot) and would go on to be nominated for the 1957 Academy Award for Best Original Song. The Ames Brothers would chart the same year with their cover of the tune, but its Reynolds’ version that’s considered the gold standard.
“I Ain’t Down Yet” (1964)
Reynolds has called her Oscar nominated performance as the title character in 1964’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown her favorite role in her career. The fictionalized account of Margaret Brown — the woman who survived the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, the film feature a score from The Music Man songwriter Meredith Wilson, and gave Reynolds one of her most energetic and fearless big-screen numbers: “I Ain’t Down Yet.” The song became an anthem for Reynolds, who quoted it during her lifetime achievement award acceptance speech at the 2015 Screen Actor’s Guild Awards.
The life of Jeanine Deckers, a Belgian nun who recorded the 1963 chart-topping French language song “Dominique,” came to the big screen in the 1966 film The Singing Nun. Reynolds played Deckers in the musical, singing the English translations of her songs as well as a few original songs for the film. “Dominique” brought millions together when it was first released, and Reynolds’ performance of the song gives it an equally compelling likability.
“You Made Me Love You” (1973)
Reynolds made her Broadway debut in the revival of Harry Tierney and Joseph McCarthy’s 1919 musical comedy Irene — alongside George S. Irving, who died Monday, and her daughter Carrie Fisher, who died Tuesday. The show’s signature tune, “You Made Me Love You,” has been covered by everyone from Judy Garland to Patsy Cline to Aretha Franklin and Gloria Estefan. But it was Reynolds who transformed the sadness in the song into an impassioned battle cry for all looking for love.
“Mother Earth and Father Time” (1973)
The 1973 animated adaptation of E.B. White’s classic tale Charlotte’s Web cast Reynolds as the speaking voice of Charlotte — the loving spider who helps a pig named Wilbur discover his confidence. It featured a score of original tunes by the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book), including “Mother Earth and Father Time” — a tune about life, death, and the importance of moving on. Get out the tissues for this one.
“Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)” (1978)
In 2013, Reynolds starred as Frances Liberace, the mother of the flashy Las Vegas pianist in HBO’s biographical film Behind the Candelabra. It was a full-circle role for Reynolds, who knew Liberace personally from their days performing on the strip together. Here, she joins him in his 1978 television special Leapin’ Lizards It’s Liberace for a disco-infused, tambourine-heavy cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher).” The clip is a powerful example of just what a dynamic performer Reynolds was.
“You Made Me Love You / Happy Days Are Here Again” (2011)
Reynolds and Fisher made a joint appearance in 2011 on The Oprah Winfrey Show for a special episode about their relationship during the talk show host’s final season. The episode ended with mother and daughter performing a medley of “You Made Me Love You” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” A heartbreaking performance giving how their lives ended.