I’ve written before about a subject that’s always fascinated me, the history of songbirds — the ladies who sang for the big bands, entertaining fans and at the same time adding a little class to the bandstand. Many of them – such as Dinah Shore, Ella Fitzgerald, and Doris Day – went on to solo stardom and even success in movies and TV.
One of the most gifted singers around was Jo Stafford, who had the ability and talent to move from a California childhood that included operatic training, to a solid career in the world of jazz and pop music. Along the way, she made a lot of fans that included countless numbers of World War II servicemen, who fondly referred to her as ‘GI Jo’.
Starting in her teen years, she began to sing professionally on radio teamed up with her sisters, but later moved on to become part of an eight-person singing group known as the Pied Pipers. At 17 she was the youngest of the group’s singers but her talent was apparent, and after the Pied Pipers trimmed themselves down to a quartet and signed on to the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, she became the focal point for fans.
The group’s fame grew with Dorsey, as they shared the stage with Frank Sinatra and had a part in many of the band’s hits, including “Yes, Indeed!” and “Manhattan Serenade.” Jo also found time to appear regularly in USO shows, which endeared her to fighting men everywhere and helped make her famous. She eventually outgrew the singing group and began a solo career, replaced in the Pied Pipers by June Hutton.
But it was a friendly break – after all, by then Jo was married to one of the other singers – and the group provided backing for many of Jo’s hits. She also continued working with them in other ways. For example, all were featured on Johnny Mercer’s very popular radio show, performing the theme song, “Dream,” and introducing some new songs too. It worked out pretty well because Mercer was not only a good composer, he was also one of the people behind Capitol records — Jo’s label.
Over the next few years, Jo had hits with “Long Ago (And Far Away),” and “Candy,” recorded with Mercer and the Pied Pipers, which was her first number-one seller. In the post-war years and on into the early 1950’s she continued to perform and record, selling a lot of records along the way. Her biggest hits were “You Belong To Me,” (video below) and “Make Love To Me.”
Over the next decade, she had some interesting things going on with her career. For a while she had her own TV show, and she also made some unusual recordings that show a more playful side to her persona. Collaborating with her 2nd husband, bandleader and musician Paul Weston, she generated a couple of pop albums using the names Jonathan and Darlene Edwards.
Through the succeeding years Jo has gradually slowed her pace of performing and has spent more time with her family, although she’s also been active in many charity organizations. Husband Paul died in 1996, and Jo now resides in California — and by the way, The Pied Pipers (with newer members) are still active musically.
(Added later – Jo Stafford died in July of 2008, a few months after this was written. She was 90 years old.)