Thursday, November 15, 2007

Forgotten Superstar - Jo Stafford & The First British Singles Chart

Fifty five years ago today the first British singles chart was published in the New Musical Express. Given Britain’s aversion to all things decimal back then the chart was actually a Top 12. But it had fifteen records on the list as for some bizarre reason the chart compiler decided that some records sold exactly the same amount!

1. Here In My Heart - Al Martino
2. You Belong To Me - Jo Stafford
3. Somewhere Along The Way - Nat 'King' Cole
4. Isle Of Innisfree - Bing Crosby
5. Feet Up - Guy Mitchell
6. Half As Much - Rosemary Clooney
7. High Noon - Frankie Laine
7. Forget Me Not - Vera Lynn
8. Sugarbush - Doris Day & Frankie Laine
8. Blue Tango - Ray Martin
10. Auf Wiedersehen (Sweetheart) – Vera Lynn
11. Because you’re mine – Mario Lanzo
12. Cowpunchers Cantata – Max Bygraves
12. Walking My Way Back Home – Johnnie Ray

Most of the names on that first chart will be familiar to just about everyone, even if the recall is a bit dim and distant. However, one name - Jo Stafford - is probably one that very few will remember. She has been called one of the most important female vocalists of all time, yet today neither her name nor reputation would register with many under the age of 65. She was the number one ranked female singer of the pre rock era.

Jo had over seventy Billboard Top 30 hits as a solo artist as well as a number as a member of the Pied Pipers. During her solo career she topped the charts on five occasions between 1945 and 1954. In Britain she topped the charts with 'You Belong to Me' and had four other hits.

Born in California on November 12, 1920, Jo studied classical music, intent on becoming an opera singer. The Depression put paid to that plan, so she and her sisters began singing on a Los Angeles radio station as the Stafford Sisters, as well as singing on a 1937 Fred Astaire movie. When they broke up Jo found work with the stylish harmony group the Pied Pipers. In 1938 the eight-piece group began working with Tommy Dorsey on radio but were fired by the show’s sponsor who did not like them. In 1939, by which time they were a four piece Dorsey offered them a job, success was just around the corner. They stayed with Dorsey until Thanksgiving Day 1942, when, in one of his frequent rages, he fired them. In early 1943 Jo went solo with Capitol Records and had her first hit in January 1944.

At Capitol she worked with Paul Weston, the label’s A&R director and the two ended up marrying in 1952. Her World War II recordings were very popular with servicemen, which won her the nickname ''G.I. Jo.'' During the 1950s she had her own TV series, as well as recording several albums as Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, Paul Weston was Jonathan. They parodied a very bad lounge act and won a Grammy for their efforts. Jo semi-retired in 1966 and stopped working completely in the late 70s, making only one more public appearance. In December 1990 when she appeared with the Hi-Lo’s at the ‘Society Of Singers Salute To Frank Sinatra’ along with Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Connie Haines and many others.


Richard Evans said...

I do remember Jo Stafford, Richard. We had her record of 'Allentown Jail' when I was a lad. A nice big shiny black 78 rpm record in a brown paper sleeve. She also did a great version of Lead Belly's 'Goodnight Irene' which Uncle Mac would occasionally play on Saturday mornings.

Richard Havers said...

Uncle Mac, now we're talking Matey.

I have a Jo Stafford box set and neither of those two songs are on it! I feel cheated.

Richard Evans said...

There's a twofer CD available of her mono recordings from the 1950s. Just found it on Amazon and it also includes 'Shrimp Boats'. I'd forgotten that one until I saw the title. I can still remember all the words too!!

Ken Perkins said...

As a youngster growing up during during World War 11 and as a Korean War Marine I became a fan of Jo's and remain so to this day. Over the years I have accumulated every recording made by her and listen to them constantly today with my children and grand children. In addition to her spectacular voice Jo was and is a genuinely nice person. On my way to Korea in 1950 while stationed at Camp Pendleton in California I would spend Sunday evenings at the RCA Studios in Los Ageles listening to the "Carnation" Radio Show " starring Jo and Tony Martin. Martin is also a very nice person. After the radio broadcast They would sneak me and other servicemen into the Palladium for a night of entertainment and dancing. Jo is 90
these days and living quietly and dignifiedly in Los Angeles. She is far from forgotten by this fan and is not likely to be so any time soon.

Richard Havers said...

Ken, thanks for your memories of Jo Stafford. I too love her voice. I have a recording somewhere of the Palladium's opening night when Tommy Dorsey's band were there. Sinatra was too along with the Pied Pipers including Jo Stafford. It must have been quite a place.

al granville said...

I've listened with pleasure to all the best female singers-Ella Fitzgerald,Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, and so on, but Miss Jo has something extra, a magical nostalgic wistfulness is the best i can describe it, coupled with superb breath control and diction and great respect for the story of the song.