Before she died March 30, Rosalie Hamlin squeezed a lot of life into her 71 years.She wrote and sang one three-minute song that has stood the test of time for 57 years and counting. She was 15 when she sang her lyrics on “Angel Baby” as a member of Rosie and the Originals. From the moment of its 1960 release, the song almost seemed destined to become an old school oldie.
When Hamlin started coming to San Bernardino in 1968 from National City to stay with her mother, Juana, she came without bringing her rock star stature, nor did she seek it, say those who knew her. Local radio stations KMEN and KFXM were still playing “Angel Baby” and she was just a few years away from being an opening act for the Rolling Stones in San Diego on their first U.S. tour.
Hamlin lived in the greater San Bernardino area for over 35 years. She rented the guest house from the McGee’s, a family of well known singers who lived on Pennsylvania Street. She later lived in a duplex on 16th and Sepulveda. Although exact figures could not be verified, it is estimated that “Angel Baby” reached sales exceeding 15 million units during Hamlin’s stay in San Bernardino. Her life-long fight to receive royalties from the song have been well chronicled. The song was released under various labels world wide and the Spanish version remains a good seller to date.
“So sorry she passed. She was a sweet and soft person,” said McGee family member Delia Renee. “She lived in my mother’s back house. I can’t remember anything she said to me about herself. Just too long ago. She was a nice person.”
Despite having earned international pop culture status, Hamlin continued to serve as her son’s Cub Scout den mother. In her biography she tells of accompanying the troop to the 1976 Scout-O-Rama at the Orange Show and later worked in the scouts’ concession stands at Perris Hill Park. During the same time frame, she was receiving favorable reviews from John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, and Elvis Presley. She once told the Inland Empire Community Newspapers that Yoko Ono sent her a master tape of John’s unreleased material per his request after his death. Lennon was just one of perhaps 20 others who covered “Angel Baby.”
The song appeared on the soundtracks to countless movies and is included on hundreds of various golden oldies albums. In her prime, she performed in nearly every major American city. Made the sweep of all the TV dance shows and at 1960’s productions at places like El Monte Legion Stadium for Art Laboe, Huggie Boy, and Johnny Otis. She said she was initially received larger on the east coast, where she donated performances to many causes.
In 1984, she did a benefit for the Casa Ramona Center. She tirelessly answered other requests for events like a drug and alcohol abuse conference at Cal State San Bernardino, the Hemet Hospice, disabled vets, youth against crime, the Colton Lions. She was billed with Freddy Fender in a 1995 Hispanic Heritage Festival at San Manuel. In 2009, she told the Inland Empire Community Newspapers that she was tired of performing after 50 years. Plus the effects of fibromyalgia were sapping her strength.
At the time she was living in Las Lunas, New Mexico but said San Bernardino would always be in her heart. “San Bernardino was once peaceful and had no crime. The Orange blossoms were wonderful. I still have family and friends who are like family in San Bernardino.” Hamlin told that later in her career she would often make the rounds in San Bernardino singing Karoake. She said she would be introduced as Rosie. “Most of the time, no one knew who I was. I went out hundreds of times, maybe three of four times someone would know me. I never went as far to sing “Angel Baby.”
“I don’t think Rosie ever wanted to be a celebrity,” said her former business manager Gene Davidson of San Bernardino. He said Hamlin had still been living in New Mexico and the pain of fibromyalgia had taken away most of her energy. She spent some of time in San Bernardino caring for her parents. Hamlin was honored by Congress, the U.S. Postal Service, and was present at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the song “Angel Baby” received special induction.
She once said she always felt specially honored and amazed when elementary school children knew of her song.