Vibrant pink, yellow and blue balloons filling the room at Oakmont of Valencia were an accurate reflection of the bright disposition of Jeanne Yvonne Gierden, who turned 100 years old on Wednesday, July 5.
As a matriarch of the family, even without having any children of her own, Gierden was the foundation, and took precedence as an inspiration for all, her loved ones said.
Born Jeanne Yvonne Weeks on July 5, 1923, in Wilson, Oklahoma, Gierden was the youngest of two brothers and three sisters. Enduring hardships, such as the Great Depression, Gierden graduated the Houston Conservatory of Music and trekked to New York City, where she began her career singing at the Roxy, the Broadway production of “Annie Get Your Gun” and even in Japan until 1949.
Returning to Hollywood, she made her way to New York City, again, as a singer at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 20, 1959. She eventually returned to the West Coast, met her husband Wilfred Anthony Gierden in the 1960s, and moved up to the Santa Clarita Valley in the 1970s. After issues with building on property bought in Cambria for 15 years, Gierden and her husband finally built their dream home and lived there until his death in 2017. Gierden has been living in Valencia since.
Madison Davenport, Gierden’s great-great-niece, reflected on the brilliance, and quirkiness, of Gierden:
“She did Carnegie Hall, which is huge. She’s an amazing singer, I always used to always go and visit her and she would always tell me: 1. Don’t get the fat sucked out of your cheeks because that’s what keeps you young; 2. Palmers [cocoa butter] cures everything, because that’s what Elizabeth Taylor always used; and 3. Don’t have kids, do what you want, be weird,” Davenport said.
Davenport’s favorite advice that her great-great-aunt ever gave her? “Make yourself happy.”
Also being a music artist and finding an essential common ground, Davenport had played Gierden her single, “Danger, Danger,” to which she received approval from her greatest mentor: “That’s so catchy!”
Being a supportive, yet resilient individual, Gierden had implemented such traits into her own life, amidst a time that perhaps wasn’t as accepting.
“She always did what she wanted: She didn’t make any concessions at the time to be a wife and a mother, [especially] growing up in the ’40s. She pursued her career in music. She traveled to Japan, and then she came back and helped her mom buy a house,” Davenport said.
While Davenport raves about the life and accomplishments of Gierden, she wants people to know the fierceness of her great-great-aunt.
“I want people to know that she’s a firecracker. … She lived an amazing life, and I’m super proud to know that my favorite aunt in the whole world performed at Carnegie. I want people to know that she’s awesome and [she] did it her way.”
Gierden’s niece, Marged Wakeley, also discussed the ways in which her aunt paved the way.
“She was big-time Broadway, and that was not easy. She went to Japan for a year to entertain the troops [after the war].”
Wakeley, who pursued a career of character acting in the 1960s, remarked on the inspiration of Gierden’s trajectory, and how nothing was too big for her to accomplish.
“[She is] amazing; she was tiny and sang. Some little kid from Texas walks into New York and makes it? She’s inspired everybody to be an artist, to express their art.”
Richard Weeks, who described Gierden as his father’s “baby sister,” discussed early fond memories of his aunt’s career.
“Aunt Jeanne was the star of our family. I remember when I was probably 9 years old, we all came over to Hollywood to Jeanne’s mother’s house, our grandmother, to hear our Aunt Jeanne sing on the radio from New York, of all places,” Weeks said. “We all gathered around the radio, and she sang ‘Shrimp Boats are a Comin,’ because that’s a song from the Houston area. And that was a highlight of our childhood.”
Joking that he would run out of tape if he could list all of Gierden’s positive traits, Weeks perfectly summed it up: “She was always a lovely, good person that everyone in our family looked up to, because of her grace and determination.”