From the era of modern music to an era long past

Sep 2019 From the era of modern music to an era long past

By Derek Mead

A Jo Stafford tribute

MANY MUSIC lovers of a certain age living in a now unacceptable world of rock and roll – and many strange musical influences – are more and more looking back over their years of listening to their favourite artistes who sang and played in a timeless era of pure voices and musical treasure.
In selecting a voice and atmosphere to take me back to that era, I sought quiet lyrics with strong melodies.

The obvious choice was Jo Stafford, a much-revered songstress whose active years were from 1930 to 1940 in vocal groups, then from 1944 to 1982 as a solo singer. There were many aspects of her singing, including the wistful haunting voice touching the soul of the listener and imparting her lyrics with clarity and feeling.

This is something of a personal tribute to her rather than a life story, and it will surely bring back fond memories of a loved vocalist bom in November, 1917, who died in July, 2008, aged 90 and who lived a Californian life.

Her voice is, to this day, fondly remembered by the entire world of music, not merely those who loved and followed her. She has been described as ‘an unforgettable treasure ‘ – ‘the finest voice of her era’ and she sang serenely through her years, being compared to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and our own Salena Jones.

Just listen to her singing one of her finest songs from 1950 ‘Sometime’ by Ted Fio Rito then listen to ‘All the Things You Are’ 1939 – ‘Long Ago (and Far Away)’ 1944 – ‘You Belong To Me’ 1952 (topped the US and UK Charts) – ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ 1959. These are songs – lyrics and music – to which many will still relate with ease. ‘Sometime’ is a masterpiece both in composition and performance!

Sometime/To every lonely one/Sometime/Someone comes along Somewhere/There is an only one singing/loves old song The gray skies above you will change to fair as blue Sometime/Someone will whisper I love you/ love you too.

Facts about Jo will help explain her original and lasting popularity. She was classically- trained to become an opera singer before reverting to popular music and achieving record worldwide sales.

Her first musical appearance was at 12 years old. She sang with the Pied Pipers group, involving the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, and Frank Sinatra from 1939 to 1944. She lived, recorded and sang in the Californian hotbed of music, with 83 records on Billbox’s solo pop charts, and when she ended her singing career, she had sold more than 25 million records. In 1955, was ranked fifth overall as a female artist.

During World War Two, she was the favourite of the US Army, who called her’ GI Jo’. She won one Grammy award in 1960 and was awarded three stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame for recording radio and television, with an Emmy Awards nomination. Her version of ‘You Belong to Me’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1982.

She was inducted into the Big Band Academy of America’s Golden Bandstand in 2007 and Jo, with Paul Weston (her second husband) was a founding member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

While all of this helps to confirm her credentials in music and song, it is really her voice alone that has given testimony to her popularity, with her pure, uncomplicated sound and the versatility of her many recordings.

She sang with big band, ballads, jazz, folk and some comedy. To this day, her voice remains instantly recognisable and her songs have influenced the careers of Judy Collins and Patsy Cline.

Jo was reticent about singing before live audiences and played only one nightclub, La Martinique, in New York. Jo was very much into family life and she declined a contract in Las Vegas to be with her children.

Admired for the purity of her voice and her singing versatility, her operatic training allowed her to sing in a natural falsetto. Rosemary Clooney admired her voice as ‘beautiful, pure and straightforward’.

Jo was a Democrat, and in 1960 supported John F Kennedy for President, and later, performed for him at a dinner in Southern California.

Jo was reputed to have a voice of perfect pitch but she personally stated she had a ‘good relative pitch’.