Jo Stafford

Photo of Jo Stafford
  • Born

    November 12, 1917
    Coalinga, California
  • Died

    July 16, 2008 (age 90)
    Los Angeles, California
  • Orchestras

    Tommy Dorsey

One of the most pop­u­lar fe­male vo­cal­ists of the 1940s, Jo Stafford is prob­a­bly best re­mem­bered to­day for her WWII record­ings. She was of­ten called America’s Most Versatile Singer” for the wide-range of ma­te­r­ial she per­formed.

Born in California on November 12, 1917, Jo stud­ied clas­si­cal vo­cal as a youth and had as­pi­ra­tions of be­com­ing an op­er­atic singer. The ar­rival of the Great Depression way­laid her plans, and she joined her two older sis­ters, Pauline and Christine, as part of a pop­u­lar mu­sic trio, the Stafford Sisters. They were fea­tured in their own reg­u­lar broad­cast on Los Angeles ra­dio sta­tion KHJ.

Her sis­ters’ mar­riages even­tu­ally broke up the act, and Jo found work with a newly-formed vo­cal group, the Pied Pipers. The octet’s styl­ish har­monies proved pop­u­lar, and they be­gan to per­form on lo­cal ra­dio and on Hollywood sound­tracks. They soon at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Tommy Dorsey arrangers Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl.

In 1938, Weston per­suaded Dorsey to give the Pied Pipers a spot on his Raleigh-Kool Show. All eight mem­bers piled into two cars and drove to New York, with no promise of work other than one shot on the ra­dio. The show went well though, and they were signed to ap­pear for ten weeks. Just as every­thing seemed to be go­ing their way, how­ever, dis­as­ter struck. During their sec­ond pro­gram, the spon­sor heard them for the first time, did­n’t like them, and promptly fired them. The Pipers re­mained in New York for seven more months, land­ing only one job the whole time from which they made $3.60 each, though they did record four sides for RCA Victor dur­ing their stay.

Returning to Los Angeles, the group lost four mem­bers to reg­u­lar jobs on the way. The re­main­ing four strug­gled to make a liv­ing and were on the verge of call­ing it quits when, in 1939, they re­ceived an of­fer from Dorsey to join his or­ches­tra. With Dorsey, the Pipers fi­nally found suc­cess. Stafford was fea­tured solo on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, and the group backed up Frank Sinatra on many of his early num­bers. When Connie Haines left the band in March 1942, Stafford took over the chores of lead fe­male vo­cal­ist. She placed ninth in Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1942 an­nual col­lege poll for best fe­male band vo­cal­ist.

The Pied Pipers re­mained with Dorsey un­til Thanksgiving Day 1942, when Dorsey ex­ploded at one of the mem­bers, ig­nit­ing an ar­gu­ment with the whole group, who promptly quit. They were im­me­di­ately hired by three ra­dio sta­tions. The fol­low­ing year they were signed by Johnny Mercer to his newly-formed la­bel, Capitol Records.

In December 1943, Stafford recorded her first solo sides, leav­ing the Pied Pipers to pur­sue her own ca­reer. Her record­ings dur­ing WWII were among the most pop­u­lar with American ser­vice­men, re­sult­ing in her be­ing nick­named G.I. Jo.” She ap­peared reg­u­larly on ra­dio.

In 1947, Stafford’s first hus­band, John Huddleston, a for­mer mem­ber of the Pied Pipers, sued her and the quar­tet for breach of con­tract. When Huddleston en­tered the ser­vice dur­ing World War II, his spot in the quar­tet was to be guar­an­teed upon his re­turn, but he was not al­lowed to re­join when that time came. Stafford di­vorced Huddleston in 1944. At Capitol, Stafford once again worked with Paul Weston, who was the la­bel’s mu­sic di­rec­tor at the time. The two formed a strong friend­ship that even­tu­ally blos­somed into mar­riage in 1952.

In 1950, Stafford moved from Capitol to CBS, where she con­tin­ued her suc­cess­ful record­ing ca­reer un­til she re­turned to Capitol in 1961 for a six-al­bum deal. She made her de­but on tele­vi­sion in 1954, star­ring in her own pro­grams in both the U.S. and Britain. Together with her hus­band, she recorded sev­eral al­bums un­der the names of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. The Edwards were a par­ody of a bad lounge act and won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album.

Jo semi-re­tired in 1966 and left the mu­sic busi­ness com­pletely in 1975, ex­cept for an ad­di­tional Jonathan and Darlene record­ing ses­sion, mak­ing only one more pub­lic ap­pear­ance, in 1990, to honor Frank Sinatra. Paul Weston died in 1996. Jo Stafford passed away from heart fail­ure in 2008, age 90.

Music

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  • I'll Never Smile Again
    Tommy Dorsey (Frank Sinatra, Pied Pipers), Victor (1940)
  • Let's Just Pretend
    Tommy Dorsey (Jo Stafford), Victor (1941)
  • Oh, Look at Me Now
    Tommy Dorsey (Frank Sinatra, Connie Haines, Pied Pipers), Victor (1941)
  • Yes, Indeed
    Tommy Dorsey (Sy Oliver, Jo Stafford), Victor (1941)
  • On the Sunny Side of the Street
    Jo Stafford, Capitol (1944)
  • Tim-Tay-Shun
    Red Ingles and Jo Stafford, Capitol (1947)
  • Goodnight, Irene
    Jo Stafford, Capitol (1950)
  • Midnight Sun
    Jo Stafford, Columbia (1960)
  • Take the 'A' Train
    Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, Corinthian (1962)
  • Stayin' Alive
    Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, Corinthian (1979)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Films

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  • Screenshot
    "It Started All Over Again"
    The Pied Pipers
    from the film Jam Session, Columbia (1944)
  • Screenshot
    Medley
    Jo Stafford and Ella Fitzgerald
    from The Jo Stafford Show, CBS (1961)

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Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. “Collegiate Choice for Female Vocalists.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 21.
  4. “T.D. Plans to Use Strings in His Ork.” Billboard 9 May 1942: 25.
  5. “Record Buying Guide.” Billboard 11 Dec. 1943: 66.
  6. “Jo Stafford Suit Settled for $9000.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune 12 Jun. 1947: 2.
  7. Advertisement. Life 26 Jan. 1948. 10-11. “Singer Jo Stafford to Make Television Debut Tonight.” The Victoria Advocate [Victoria, TX] 2 Feb. 1954: 2.
  8. “Jo Stafford, America's Most Versatile Singer.” St. Petersburg Times 18 Nov. 1956: 10-E.
  9. “Jo Stafford, Easy Talker.” The Pittsburgh Press 19 Mar. 1964: 70.
  10. “Singer Jo Stafford Dies of Heart Failure.” Lodi News-Sentinel 18 Jul. 2008: 7.