Jo Stafford

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January/February 2020
Jo Stafford

By Jerry Osterberg

Jo Stafford

Jo Stafford was one of the most successful recording artists of all time. She recorded with Capitol and Columbia Records in the 1940s and 1950s. Her repertoire included pop, jazz, folk, and comedy. Stafford and husband Paul Weston, her primary arranger and conductor, created their musical alter egos, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, whose comedy album won a Grammy in 1961.
Jo Stafford was born in Coalinga, California on November 12, 1917. She studied music and voice at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, performing extensively with the school chorus. When she graduated from Polytechnic, the Great Depression was underway. Landing a job performing with her older sisters, she became the third member of the Stafford Sisters, appearing on radio and recording on Hollywood sound stages. Sister Jo met seven male singers on a movie set and they were harmonizing to pass the time.
Stafford proposed they form a chorus which they named the Pied Pipers.
Discovered and hired by the Tommy Dorsey Band, the octet performed live, on radio, and in movies. By the time Frank Sinatra joined the band in 1940, the group had been become a quartet.

The Pied Pipers were incredibly popular. Their biggest hit was “I’ll Never Smile Again.” Encouraged by Sinatra, Stafford petitioned Dorsey, and with the Dorsey Band she made her first success as a soloist with “Yes Indeed!
” Consistent with a growing trend within the big bands, Sinatra, Stafford, and the Pied Pipers had left Dorsey by 1944. Stafford and the Pied Pipers, without Sinatra, became regulars on Johnny Mercer’s radio program. When Mercer started Capitol Records, Stafford was one of the first artists he hired.
She had numerous songs on the charts, both at Capitol and Columbia: “Long Ago and Far Away”; “Day by Day”; “It Could Happen to You”; “Candy” (with Mercer); “You Belong to Me”; “Jambalaya”; “Shrimp Boats”; “Make Love to Me”; and a series of duets with both Frankie Laine and Gordon MacRae. Stafford had a television show in 1954 and hosted a season on U.K. television in 1961.
She never enjoyed performing before a live audience.
She liked harmonizing, radio, and recording. When rock ‘n’ roll started to subsume the American Songbook in the last half of the 1950s, Stafford retired. She performed in public for the last time in 1990 in honor of Frank Sinatra’s 75th birthday. She died at the age of 90 on July 16, 2008.

Jerry Osterberg

After decades in the banking field, singing in a chorale, and writing on just about every subject under the sun, Jerry left finance and decided to devote himself to the American Songbook. Countless workshops in singing and writing later, he began contributing articles to the New York Sheet Music Society and to write reviews and feature stories for Cabaret Scenes. Jerry is now the Contributing Editor for the monthly newsletter of the NYSMS, continues to perform in chorus, and is currently researching a biography of the late American pop singer Jo Stafford.