Jo Stafford

Photo of Jo Stafford
  • Birth Name

    Jo Elizabeth Stafford
  • Born

    November 12, 1917
    Coalinga, California
  • Died

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

    The Pied Pipers
  • Orchestras

    Tommy Dorsey

Singer Jo Stafford is best remembered today for her popular recordings of the World War II era. Stafford rose to prominence in the early 1940s as a member of the Pied Pipers vocal group with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra. After leaving Dorsey in late 1942, she established herself as a successful solo artist and emerged as one of the most popular female vocalists of that decade. She was often called “America’s Most Versatile Singer” for the wide-range of material she performed. Stafford continued singing into the 1960s, semi-retiring in 1966.

Originally from Tennessee, Stafford’s family had moved west to California by the time of her birth, where her father worked in the oil fields. Stafford studied classical vocal as a youth and had aspirations of becoming an operatic singer, but the arrival of the Great Depression waylaid her plans, and she joined her two older sisters, Christine and Pauline, as part of a popular music trio, the Stafford Sisters, singing hillbilly music. They were featured in their own regular broadcast on Los Angeles radio station KHJ and made their network debut on the CBS program Hollywood Barn Dance.[1]

Her sisters’ marriages eventually broke up the act, and Jo found work with a newly-formed vocal group, the Pied Pipers, an octet featuring seven male singers. She married fellow Piper John Huddleston in October 1937. The group’s 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.

Dorsey Years

In December 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, however, and they were signed to appear for ten weeks, but 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 in mid-1939, the group lost several members to regular jobs. The remaining members, including Stafford and Huddleston, struggled to make a living and were on the verge of calling it quits when, in late 1939, they received an offer from Dorsey to join his orchestra, where they initially became part of a vocal staff that included Allan DeWitt and Anita Boyer. Unhappy with DeWitt, Dorsey replaced him in January 1940 with a then mostly unknown Frank Sinatra. When Boyer left the band that same month, Dorsey at first planned to use Stafford as his only female vocalist but then changed his mind and brought in Connie Haines to share duties. Haines sang on the bouncier numbers while Stafford handled romantic tunes and speciality songs. Stafford made her first solo recording with Dorsey in February 1941 on the song “For You.” When Haines left the band in March 1942, she became the sole female vocalist.

With modern arrangements by Sy Oliver and a stable of top singers, Dorsey’s orchestra was at the peak of its success in the early 1940s, rivaled only by Glenn Miller. The Pied Pipers proved popular with the public, and soon other bandleaders began to follow Dorsey’s lead and hired vocal groups. Stafford herself began to attract attention. She placed ninth in Billboard magazine’s 1942 annual college poll for best female band singer.

The Pied Pipers remained with Dorsey until December 1, 1942, when, after Dorsey exploded at one of the members on Thanksgiving Day, igniting an argument with the whole group, they quit and returned to Los Angeles, where they were almost immediately hired for radio. They began a theater tour in January 1943 and made several film appearances in 1943 and 1944, including Girl Crazy and Gals, Incorporated. Recognizing Stafford’s popularity as a soloist, the group began to bill themselves as “Jo Stafford and her Pied Pipers.” Stafford won Down Beat magazine’s 1943 reader’s poll for best female vocalist.[2]

Solo Career

In 1943, Johnny Mercer signed the Pipers to his newly-formed label, Capitol Records. Mercer began to push Stafford as a solo artist both on recordings and his Chesterfield radio program, on which the Pipers also appeared. Stafford finally left the Pipers in mid-1944 to pursue her own career. Her recordings during World War II were among the most popular with American servicemen, resulting in the nickname “G.I. Jo.” She won Down Beat’s poll for best female vocalist again in 1945 after finishing third in 1944. She made a screen test for Paramount in late 1945.

Stafford divorced Huddleston in 1944. Huddleston had entered the service in 1943, and in 1946 he sued the Pipers plus Stafford for breach of contract, asking for $150,000. When he had left, his spot in the quartet was to be guaranteed upon his discharge, but he wasn’t allowed to rejoin when that time came. The Pipers thought it detrimental to break up their current formation to allow him back in. There was also a question of whether he was owed earnings. The suit was settled in 1947, with Huddleston receiving $9,000.

Stafford appeared regularly on radio as a solo artist. In December 1945, she began hosting the Chesterfield Supper Club on NBC in New York while at the same time appearing on CBS for Ford once a week. In December 1946, she began to share hosting duties on Supper Club with Perry Como. Como hosted the show on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from New York, while she hosted Tuesday and Thursday from the West Coast. In April 1948, Como and Stafford switched places, with Stafford handling the three day schedule from New York while Como was in Hollywood to make a film. Peggy Lee joined the mix of hosts later that year. In September 1948, Stafford appeared with Mercer and the Pied Pipers again on the Armed Forces Radio Service program Command Performance. In late 1948, she appeared on the weekly Revere camera show on ABC.

In mid-1947, Stafford returned to her hillbilly roots when she was brought in as a last-minute singer for a satiric country music version of the Bing Crosby hit “Temptation” by comedy music artist Red Ingle. Stafford heard the test pressing for the song and wanted to be a part of it. Capitol, however, didn’t want to associate Stafford’s name with the recording for fear it could damage her reputation as a serious singer, and they billed her as Cinderella G. Stump. Capitol was soon proven wrong. When the song, “Tim-tay-shun,” took off and became a hit, the knowledge that it was Stafford leaked out and ended up generating more sales as well as accolades for Stafford’s performance. “I’m just a hillbilly at heart,” said Stafford, “and I’m not ashamed of it.” The record sparked a run of hillbilly take-offs by other artists over the next several years. Stafford recorded another hillbilly satire with Ingle in 1948, and Capitol re-released “Tim-tay-shun” in late 1949 as “Temptation” using Stafford’s real name and giving her billing over Ingle.

The success of “Tim-tay-shun” emboldened Stafford to widen her musical horizons, and she began to step outside the realm of popular music to visit genres and styles that interested her. In 1948, she released the album American Folk Songs to good reviews, and in 1949 she recorded a bop vocal with help from Dave Lambert. She also sang several duets with Gordon McRae that same year. Her popularity remained as strong as ever, and she appeared with Peggy Lee on the cover of Down Beat magazine’s June 30, 1948, issue.

1950s and Beyond

While 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 February 1952. The couple had two children, Tim in 1952 and Amy in 1956. In late 1950, Stafford moved from Capitol to Columbia, where she continued to record through the rest of the decade. She made her debut on television in 1954, starring in her own programs in both the United States and Britain and appearing on numerous other television shows over the next ten years. In the late 1950s, 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. They won a Grammy in 1960 for Best Comedy Album.

Stafford returned to Capitol for a six-album deal in 1961. She semi-retired in 1966 and left the music business completely in 1975 except for an additional Jonathan and Darlene recording session. She made 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.


  1. Christine was fourteen years older than Jo. Pauline was eleven years older. The two sisters were born in Tennessee before the family moved west. ↩︎

  2. The Pipers’ manager at the time was “Bullets” Durgom, who also managed Dorsey’s organization. Despite the split, the Pipers were still under a personal management contract with Dorsey, who thus received a cut of their income as a solo act. Dorsey also had the same management agreement with Frank Sinatra, Connie Haines, and Jack Leonard. Stafford eventually parted ways with Durgom and Dorsey in late 1946. ↩︎


  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. “The Pied Pipers.” IMDb. Accessed 15 Feb. 2022.
  4. “They Sound Like.” Down Beat Feb. 1939: 25.
  5. “Stafford to Take Boyer Spot with T.D.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1940: 9.
  6. “Going Home With Tommy Dorsey.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1940: 20.
  7. “Jo Stafford Cuts First Solo.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1941: 4.
  8. “Sinatra Cuts 4 Discs.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1941: 15.
  9. “Collegiate Choice for Female Vocalists.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 21.
  10. “T.D. Plans to Use Strings in His Ork.” Billboard 9 May 1942: 25.
  11. “Tee Dorsey Bows With Shaw Fiddles.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1942: 1.
  12. “Pipers Leave TD.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1943: 6.
  13. “TD's Pied Pipers On Theater Tour.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1943: 7.
  14. “Casa Loma Gets Several Good Movie Breaks.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1943: 8.
  15. Emge, Charles. “Movie Music.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1943: 7.
  16. “Record Buying Guide.” Billboard 11 Dec. 1943: 66.
  17. “Jo Stafford Cops Vocalist Title.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1944: 1.
  18. “Jo Stafford and Gracie Fields Set for Summer.” Billboard 3 Jun. 1944: 6.
  19. “'Chesterfield Music Shop' Gets Wendall Niles & Pipers.” Billboard 10 Jun. 1944: 11.
  20. “June Joins Pied Pipers.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1944: 6.
  21. “Stafford A Busy Girl.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1945: 2.
  22. Manners, Dian. “Men, Maids & Manners.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1945: 7.
  23. “Woody & TD Win.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1946: 1.
  24. “Ex-Piper Wants Old Job Back or Cash For Claim.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1946: 6.
  25. “No Deal, Johnny Asks Pipers To Pay $150,000.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1946: 6.
  26. “Perry and Jo Launch Series.” Down Beat 2 Dec. 1946: 9.
  27. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1947: 5.
  28. “Jo Stafford Suit Settled for $9000.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune [Sarasota, Flrida] 12 Jun. 1947: 2.
  29. “I'm Just Hillbilly at Heart.” Down Beat 18 Jun. 1947: 3.
  30. Advertisement. Life 26 Jan. 1948. 10-11.
  31. “Como, Stafford Switch Coasts.” Down Beat 5 May 1948: 9.
  32. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 2 Jun. 1948: 16.
  33. “Jo and Peggy On The Cover.” Down Beat 30 Jun. 1948: 1.
  34. “Peggy, Jo For 'Supper Club.'” Down Beat 14 Jul. 1948: 1.
  35. Ronan, Eddie. “On the Sunset Vine.” Down Beat 22 Sep. 1948: 9.
  36. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 3 Nov. 1948: 5.
  37. Ronan, Eddie. “On the Sunset Vine.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1948: 9.
  38. “Disceries A Little Slow In Waxing.” Down Beat 14 Jan. 1949: 5.
  39. “Stafford Bops One On Capitol Platter.” Down Beat 6 May 1949: 2.
  40. “Cap Reissues Jo, Ingle Side.” Down Beat 7 Oct. 1949: 1.
  41. “You Can't Tell The Players Without A Scorecard.” Down Beat 22 Sep. 1950: 1.
  42. “Singer Jo Stafford to Make Television Debut Tonight.” The Victoria Advocate [Victoria, Texas] 2 Feb. 1954: 2.
  43. “Jo Stafford, America's Most Versatile Singer.” St. Petersburg Times [St. Petersburg, Florida] 18 Nov. 1956: 10-E.
  44. “Jo Stafford, Easy Talker.” The Pittsburgh Press 19 Mar. 1964: 70.
  45. “Singer Jo Stafford Dies of Heart Failure.” Lodi News-Sentinel [Lodi, Califria] 18 Jul. 2008: 7.
  46. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database, FamilySearch ( : 13 December 2014), Jo E Stafford, 12 Nov 1917; citing Fresno, California, United States, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
  47. “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch ( : Thu Mar 07 23:31:53 UTC 2024), Entry for Cleveland G Stafford and Anna J Stafford, 1920.
  48. “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch ( : Sat Mar 09 19:16:45 UTC 2024), Entry for Grover C Stafford and Anna J Stafford, 1930.
  49. “California, County Marriages, 1850-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 9 March 2021), John Harrison Huddleston and Jo Elizabeth Stafford, 15 Oct 1937; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 2,114,154.
  50. “California, County Marriages, 1850-1953,” FamilySearch ( : Sat Mar 09 12:34:46 UTC 2024), Entry for Paul Richard Weston and Jo Elizabeth Huddleston, 26 February 1952.
  51. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database, FamilySearch ( : 27 November 2014), Stafford in entry for Timothy John Weston, 19 Nov 1952; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
  52. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database, FamilySearch ( : 13 December 2014), Stafford in entry for Amy A Weston, 01 Mar 1956; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
  53. “Arizona, Payson, Obituaries, 1948-2008,” FamilySearch ( : 26 October 2019), Jo Stafford in entry for Paul Weston, 1996.
  54. “United States Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch ( : 12 January 2021), Jo Elizabeth Weston, 16 Jul 2008; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).