Jo Stafford R.I.P.



Jo Stafford, who died on Wednesday aged 90, not only had one of the
most pure, wide-ranging voices in American popular song - adored by
wartime servicemen, who dubbed her GI Jo - but also the ability to
parody appalling, off-key vocalising under the guises of Darlene
Edwards and Cinderella G Stump.

She first came to notice as one of the Pied Pipers group which backed
Frank Sinatra on his early recordings with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
in the late 1930s, and she made a decisive retirement in the early

Her wartime fame might suggest an American Vera Lynn, but admirers
though her possessed of greater range, wit and subtlety.

It was a style neither cool nor jazz, but nor was it bland; and if not
exactly seething, she was certainly not merely the girl-next-door in
her approach. She could always surprise.

Jo Elizabeth Stafford was born on November 12 1917 at Coalinga, a
one-horse town between San Francisco and Los Angeles, to which her
father Grover Cleveland Stafford had brought the family from
Gainesboro, Tennessee, in the hope of making a fortune from oil.

He managed only to find a series of mediocre jobs which were scarcely
to see them through the Depression.

Among them was one at Miss Hall's School, a private finishing-school
for girls.

Jo always remembered his being allowed to bring home the school
phonograph on Christmas and hear a disc of the old song Whispering

Her mother, Anne, had been an adroit performer on the five-string
banjo, and the folk music of Tennessee was to remain an influence on
Jo's voice and some of her later repertoire.

Meanwhile, at school, she spent five years in classical training, with
the notion that she might become an opera singer, but she realised
that it would require even more time than that, and there was a living
to be earned in the meantime.

She was the third of four sisters, two of them, Pauline and Christine,
being 14 and 11 years older than her. With them, she formed a singing
group, such sibling ensembles being typical of the time.

The pretty Stafford Sisters were in demand. They appeared on local
radio and, five nights a week, put in an hour on the folkie show The
Crockett Family of Kentucky.

By contrast, they provided the voices of madrigal singers in the 1937
Astaire-Rogers picture A Damsel in Distress. Jo sang back-up for Alice
Faye, and there was a distinct turning point in 1938 when
Twentieth-Century Fox was making the film Alexander's Ragtime Band.
Various vocal groups were drafted in and were left to hang around much
of the time.

Among them were two groups, The Four Esquires and (also all-male) a
trio, The Rhythm Kings. With Jo, they became the eight-piece Pied

As chance would also have it, two of The King Sisters, Yvonne and
Alyce, each had a boyfriend who worked for Tommy Dorsey and were
visiting LA.

These were Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl. When the Pied Pipers arrived
at the party given for Weston and Stordahl, they made straight for the
refrigerator and ate all the food, even the ketchup: so poor were they
that they had eaten little for days.

Also typical of the time was that they thought nothing of piling into
an automobile and driving across the continent to New York when it was
clear that Dorsey would audition them for his radio show.

They performed on several shows, but were then turfed out when the
English sponsor chanced to visit and was affronted by their casual
attitude towards lyrics, which he thought would endanger his product.

The group subsisted for six months in the city, then realised that the
game was up and headed back to the West Coast, where the men had to
take other jobs.

Just when Jo got home from collecting her first welfare cheque, there
was a message to call Chicago and reverse the charges. It was Dorsey
again. He could not accomodate eight singers, but wanted a quartet.

The Pied Pipers left for Chicago in December 1939, just as Weston was
leaving the orchestra to work with Dinah Shore and Sinatra was
arriving from Harry James's band.

Dorsey was a volatile character - everybody was sacked or resigned at
some time, usually for a few hours - and his orchestra was sometimes
played down by critics as a routine outfit; which was to be blind to
its great charm and the way in which it was adapted to the various
permutations of vocalists. The young Sinatra, for one, recognised this
and - whatever the bitterness of his falling out with a mercenary
Dorsey - would always testify as much.

The first song on which the Pied Pipers appeared with him was the No 1
hit I'll Never Smile Again. Perhaps the best-known of the songs upon
which the Pied Pipers performed was Oh Look At Me Now, which also
featured another Dorsey vocalist, Connie Haines. (Sinatra later
re-recorded it at a slower pace, and Jo Stafford, too, revisited it in
the 1950s, with male background singers.)

Whatever his other shortcomings, such as a volatile friendship with
drummer Buddy Rich, Sinatra was devoted to the music. As Jo Stafford
recalled, "most solo singers usually don't fit too well into a group,
but Frank never stopped working at it and, of course, as you know, he
blended beautifully with us".

She herself had an eye for a song and, self-deprecatingly, asked
Dorsey whether she might have a solo with Little Man With A Candy
Cigar. He not only agreed, but brought her forward on other, better
songs such as Embraceable You.

The orchestra featured in a few forgettable movies, and by March 1942,
Sinatra had gone solo. A few months later, the songwriter Johnny
Mercer was able to fulfil his ambition of starting a record company,
Capitol, on the West Coast.

Mercer was keen to get Jo Stafford, and she hungered for a return to
California. The label also featured Peggy Lee and Margaret Whiting; as
songs came up, the company decided which singer was best suited to
them. "It was all completely music-oriented,

" she recalled, "a lot of

During the decade, Jo had 38 songs in the Top Twenty, among them The
Trolley Song and My Darling, My Darling - and was held in particular
esteem by servicemen for whom, like Sinatra, she made numerous
recordings on the V-Discs distributed only within the armed forces.

Her first No 1, in the middle of 1947, was, however, not under her own
name. She had been walking across the Capitol studio when she heard
the musician Country Washburn, who was working on a parody of Perry
Como's hit Temptation.

The singer had not turned up, so, there and then, Jo Stafford
volunteered to sing: with her voice speeded up, the result was
Tim-tayshun and the alias of Cinderella G Stump, to which the label
would not at first allow her to own up. Moreover, she had done it for
fun; and for scale: she refused royalties, to her agent's dismay.

She made various radio series, and, while doing so, realised that she
did not care to live in New York. She returned to California, whence
she continued to broadcast The Chesterfield Supper Club.

As well as Broadway standards, she was always keen to give time to
America's folk heritage. She recorded albums of these songs, with
strings, and also duets of devotional songs with Gordon McRae, such as
the 19th-century Whispering Hope, which reached No 4 in 1949.

She made regular appearances on the Voice of America radio station
(and was as much a voice during the Korean war as she had been in the

When Paul Weston left for Columbia Records in the early 1950s, she
followed him, and they were married in 1952, at which time she became
a Catholic.

She developed theme LPs, and continued to have such hits as You Belong
To Me which, though recorded only to fill up time at the end of a
session, sold two million copies. Other hits were an adaptation of an
old blues as Make Love To Me!, Weston's Shrimps Boats, a version of
Hank Williams's Jambalaya, and All The Things You Are.

Columbia's director Mitch Miller was notorious for novelty notions,
most gruesomely pairing Frank Sinatra with a dog on Mama Will Bark. Jo
Stafford got off relatively lightly with eight hits with Frankie Laine
(among them, In the Cool, Cool of the Evening and Hey, Good Lookin')
and one with Liberace (Indiscretion). She had a show on the label's
television affilliate, CBS.

She had sold 25 million discs for the label, but with the advent of
Elvis Presley in 1956, the music market changed. She now concentrated
on albums, her range suggested by Jo + Jazz, Swingin' Down Broadway,
Ballad of the Blues, some discs of religious music, and a collection
of Scottish tunes.At the same time, another guise presented itself.

At a Columbia sales-convention in Florida, Weston played the piano in
parody of a particularly atrocious supper-club performer, just as the
session-musicians used to do if there were any time left over at the
end of recordings.

The audience, including Dean Martin's wife, Jeanne, was delighted. Jo
Stafford was persuaded to produce several cringeworthy collections
with her husband, just off-key enough to be plausible, under the names
Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. They acquired a cult following.

Weston then fell out with Columbia, and the pair returned to Capitol.
The summer of 1961 was spent in England, where they made a dozen shows
for ATV.

By now they had two children and, little by little, Jo Stafford
withdrew from the industry.

She made albums on various labels, and some more devotional sides with
Gordon McRae, but would not make any night-club appearances.

She gave much time to charities for handicapped children and singers,
and said that she no longer sang "for the same reason that Lana Turner
is not posing in bathing-suits any more". She resisted approaches by
the Californian label Concord.

Jo Stafford had made over 600 recordings, and she and Paul were able
to claim the masters of those from Columbia and issue them on their
own Corinthian label.

Not that she was completely finished, record-wise: she not only
recorded a duet of Whispering Hope with her daughter but returned to
the microphone as Darlene Edwards, in 1979, for devastating takes on
Helen Reddy's I Am Woman and - bizarrely - The Bee Gees' Stayin'
Alive. She made one last appearance in 1982 - on the same bill as

She had always replied to servicemen who wrote to her, and was an
authority on the war. Weston died in 1996; Jo Stafford is survived by
her children, Tim, a guitarist and record producer, and Amy, a singer.

23:18 Gepost door Lexman in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: jo stafford |  Facebook |

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