Jo Stafford was trained as an opera singer but in 1935 joined her older sisters’ pop trio and then an octet, the Pied Pipers, whose progressive harmonies got them a short-lived contract with Tommy Dorsey in 1938. Dorsey rehired them in 1939 as a quartet to front his band and back up new singer Frank Sinatra.
The Pied Pipers signed with Capitol Records in 1942, and in 1944 Stafford left to pursue a solo career, performing for troops during WWII (earning her the nickname “G. I. Jo”), appearing on TV, and eventually hosting her own series stateside and in England.
At Capitol she reconnected with band leader/arranger Paul Weston whom she married in 1952. She scored numerous hits and had eight songs among the top recordings in 1947. From 1944-1947 as top female vocalist she received an award for selling over 25 million records. In 1949 she introduced “Autumn Leaves” which would not become a hit until pianist Roger Williams’ recording in 1955.
Her appeal lay in her pure coloratura voice, perfect intonation, emotional honesty, and taste in material. Ironically, the only Grammy she ever won (1957) was for Best Comedy Album, a parody of a lounge act, billed as Darlene and Jonathan Edwards, in which she sang off-key and Weston backed her with florid piano licks.
During her Columbia years, Stafford recorded some material which seemed inappropriate for her, but she enjoyed huge successes with “Jambalaya,” “Shrimp Boats,” and “You Belong to Me” in the ‘50s.
Stafford chose to retire at her peak, completely leaving the business in 1975 and appearing only once in 1990 to honor Frank Sinatra.
Jazz bassist Charlie Haden revived interest in Stafford’s work with his 1991 recording, Haunted Heart, which features her 1947 recording of the title cut. Always Say Goodbye (1994) features Stafford, again with Paul Weston’s orchestra, singing “Alone Together”.
-- Sandra Burlingame
Courtesy of JazzStandards.com