Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jo Stafford (1917-2008)

"G.I." Jo Stafford, one of the great vocalists of the Jazz era, died last Wednesday at age 90, as the Times reports:
A favorite of American servicemen, Ms. Stafford earned the nickname G.I. Jo for her recordings in which her pure, nearly vibrato-less voice, with perfect intonation, conveyed steadfast devotion and reassurance with delicate understatement.

She was the vocal embodiment of every serviceman’s dream girl faithfully tending the home fires while he was overseas. First as a member of the Pied Pipers, who sang with Tommy Dorsey and accompanied the young Frank Sinatra, and later as a soloist, Ms. Stafford enjoyed a stream of hits from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s. Her biggest hit, “You Belong to Me,” in 1952, sold two million copies.***

[I]t was as a balladeer interpreting standards like “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Haunted Heart,” “All the Things You Are” and “The Nearness of You” that Ms. Stafford distilled as pure a vocal essence of romantic nostalgia as any pop singer of the 1940s and ’50s.

As the offspring of professional jazz musicians, we well remember that velvety voice frequently playing in the background around the house as we were growing up. We also remember with equal fondness her satirical recordings under the fictitious name of "Darlene Edwards."

Along with her real-life husband, band leader Paul Weston, as the fictitious piano player "Jonathan Edwards," she cracked up listeners around the world well into the '60s and '70s. What made these recordings such classics was that Jo Stafford's perfect pitch made it possible for her to consistently hit the wrong note squarely off the button, every time.

As the Times describes it, the "Edwards" duo pretended to be "an excruciatingly bad New Jersey lounge act" that launched Stafford and her husband on second careers that lasted well into the late 1970's.
While Mr. Weston played the wrong chords and fudged the rhythm, Ms. Stafford sang a half-tone sharp. Mr. Stafford won her only Grammy, for best comedy album (“Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris”), in 1961. The Edwardses records, the last of which was a hilariously inept 1977 single of “Stayin’ Alive,” with their version of “I Am Woman” on the flip side, rank as classic pop spoofs alongside those of Spike Jones and Weird Al Yankovic.
A Wikipedia entry correctly recalls that for a time Stafford and her husband "denied any personal connection" with the Edwards' act. Although a lot of musicians recognized the voice behind the musical lampoon --
The ruse triggered a national sensation as the public tried to identify the brazenly off-key singer and the piano player of dubious ability. (Some guessed Margaret and Harry Truman, Time magazine noted.)
Even today one can catch an "Edwards" recording on radio, now and then. Jo Stafford's albums CDs, both serious and comedic, still are widely available. (If memory serves, there's also a Christmas track by "Darlene Edwards" somewhere out there in radio land, possibly included in a larger seasonal album by the Paul Weston Orchestra.)

Give a listen to these hilarious renditions of "I Love Paris," "Don't Get Around Much Any More" and other favorites. But first, be sure to thoroughly swallow all liquids.

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