In the fall of 1917, Grover Cleveland Stafford, his wife Anna York and their two daughters left their farm community of Gainesboro, Tennessee for the oil fields of California, hoping to improve their station in life. They settled in a small company owned house on a tract of land called “Lease 35” in Coalinga, California, near Fresno. Stafford had worked on a farm in Tennessee and Anna was noted for her prowess as a five string banjoist. Two months later on November 12, 1917, Anna gave birth to her third daughter, Jo Elizabeth. Another daughter would be born seven years later. Jo Stafford would later become the quintessential vocalist of the 1940 and 1950s. She is one of the finest in her profession to stand behind a microphone in this century and sing popular songs. She can easily be characterized as warm, open and a personable lady devoted to her family, and cherishes good friends and popular music.
In 1921, the family moved to Long Beach, since a new oil field had been discovered at Signal Hill. Stafford attended Hamilton Jr. High School and Polytechnic High School. She began to sing at twelve and trained for five years to be an opera singer. While singing in the glee club in high school, she took voice lessons from Foster Rucker, a local announcer at KNX radio, who later married her sister, Pauline. Pauline remarked, “Rucker was a very fine instructor and she sometimes might go six months without actually singing a song but instead practicing breath control and other vocal exercises.” In 1929, she made her first public appearance singing “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” for a meeting of Jobs’ Daughters and at 16 she sang an aria from the opera “Rigoletto” at the Long Beach Terrace Theater.
Her two older sisters, Christine and Pauline, began to appear on a local radio station, KNK, in Hollywood in a Country and Western singing trio as the Stafford Sisters. When Stafford finished high school, she joined her sisters in the hour-long country and music radio show heard five nights a week and called “The Crockett Family of Kentucky. The trio also appeared on their own 15 minute program heard three nights a week on KHJ. They performed popular songs and supplied background vocals for all the major motion picture studios in nearby Hollywood. They were also were regulars on David Broeckman’s California Melodies radio show on KHJ, Los Angeles.
In 1938, Twentieth Century Fox put together a major motion picturethat required many back-up vocal groups since a large choral group was needed. The film, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, was an entertaining musical that chronicled the ups and downs of the aristocratic bandleader and was highlighted by a score of Irving Berlin songs including the title tune. Stafford recalls, “We had to do a lot of waiting and sitting around between takes, so seven boys from a group called the Esquires and another called The Rhythm Kings began harmonizing with one another,” What started out as trying to kill some time and have some fun turned out to be the start of the Pied Pipers.
Their newly formed sound caught the attention of two of the King Sisters, Alyce and Yvonne, who encouraged their boyfriends, Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl to listen to the newly formed octet. At that time, Weston and Stordahl were the chief arrangers for Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra and helped produce his New York based radio program, The Raleigh-Kool Show. Subsequently the new group, who called themselves the Pied Pipers, were invited to perform on Dorsey’s Show for a singular performance. The original group was comprised of Hal Hopper, Chuck Lowery, John Huddelston, Woody Newbury, George Tait, Dick Whittinghill and Bud Hervey. Stafford recalls, “Knowing we were only guaranteed one night of work, we drove all the way to New York and made a pact that we would save just enough money for a ticket home in case things didn’t work out.” They
For the Record…
Born Jo Elizabeth Stafford, November 12, 1917, in Coalinga, CA; daughter of Grover Cleveland (a Shell Oil Company employee) and Anna York (a homemaker) Stafford; married John Huddleston c. 1941, (divorced 1943); married Paul Weston, February 26, 1952, (Weston died September 1996); children: (with Weston) Tim and Amy.
Performed on KNK radio with her two sisters, Stafford Sisters, 1935; formed the Pied Pipers 1938; performed with Tommy Dorsey & his orchestra 1939; joined Johnny Mercer Show 1944; signed with Capitol Records 1944; had a series of radio shows 1944-1949, including Broadcast for Radio Luxembourg (Europe) and Voice of America 1950; Jo Stafford Show-CBS-TV 1954.
Awards: Diamond Award Columbia Records 25 Million Records Sold; Grammy Award 1960 for Best Comedy LP Album; Three Stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame for records, radio and television.
Addresses: Record company —Hanover Music Corp., Corinthian Records, P. O. Box 6296, Beverly Hills, CA, 90212.
stayed on the show for nearly two months and managed to remain in New York for several more months before their money ran out. Some of the members were married and had families in California, so they disbanded and the group ended up becoming a quartet returning on the train to Los Angeles.
After returning home, Stafford was unable to find work. As her employment benefits were about to run out, she received a call from Tommy Dorsey asking her to join him at the Palmer House in Chicago. It was December of 1939 and the new Pied Piper Quartet consisted of her first husband John Huddleston, Chuck Lowery, Clark Yocum, a Dorsey guitarist and vocalist, and Stafford when they rejoined Dorsey. In 1940, the Pied Pipers were joined on by a new singer from Hoboken, New Jersey, who had worked for a short time with Harry James before jumping to Dorsey’s band. Frank Sinatra would not only prove to be a fine soloist but frequently provided backing to the Pied Pipers. The Sinatra pairing with the Pied Pipers resulted inthe number one hit “I’ll Never Smile Again.” It remained on top for 12 weeks and nearly five months on the charts. Tommy Dorsey later gave Jo Stafford the opportunity to sing a solo and in 1942 her first solo recording “Little Man with a Candy Cigar,” was released on Columbia Records. Columbia Records later recognized her with a Diamond Award as the first recording artist to sell 25 million records.
For the next three years, the Pied Pipers traveled with the Dorsey Band for mostly one night stands by bus and sometimes by train with an occasional stop of three or four weeks in one city. The Pied Pipers stayed with Dorsey until 1942 when Dorsey fired Lowery. However, the Pied Pipers had already established themselves and went out on their own and performed on various radio shows with Bob Crosby, Johnny Mercer, Frank Sinatra and others. Huddleston and Stafford were divorced in 1943.
In April of 1944, the Pied Pipers signed with Capitol Records, and Huddleston who had left the group to join the war effort, was replaced by an original octet member, Hal Hooper. Early in 1944, Stafford left the Pied Pipers to pursue a solo career with Johnny Mercer. She signed on with his newly formed Capitol Records and crossed paths again with Paul Weston, Capitol’s music director. She recorded such hits as “Candy,” “Serenade of the Bells,” “That’s for Me,” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” Her first recording for Capitol Records, “How Sweet You Are,” reached number 14 on the charts in February of 1944. She later went to New York and performed at the Club Martinique, which was the first and only time she appeared in a night club.
Stafford was also very popular among serviceman during World War II. They dubbed her “G. I. Jo” and she was voted the favorite vocalist by many service personnel. Stafford could frequently be seen visiting military bases and hospitals around the United States. Her rendition of Irving Berlin’s “I Lost My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen” easily invokes memories of that time and shows why she was so highly admired. She has the unique distinction of being voted the favorite female vocalist of service personnel of both the Korean War and World War II. One amusing story came about when she met two American pilots who told her that they were almost court marshaled because of her. They were flying back to England from Germany after a mission, when against military regulations they began listening to Armed Forces Radio. Over their home field, they changed their flight pattern by listening to a band that was playing one of her selections. Instead of turning to the correct band so they could receive their landing instructions, they waited until her song was completed.
By 1946 she had her own radio show, The Chesterfield Supper Club, after a close association with Perry Como. She remained with Capitol Records until 1950 then signed on with Columbia Records. Subsequently The Jo Stafford Show, sponsored by Revere Camera, was added followed by feature roles on the Carnation Hour and Club 15radio shows. During the 1940s she placed nearly 40 songs in the top 20 charts.
The Cold War played another significant part in Stafford’s career. In 1950, she was hired to aid the Truman administration’s anti-Communist effort by becoming a broadcaster at the American funded Radio Luxembourg, working therefor nearly three years. The 200 watt station, Europe’s only commercial station, beamed out over 400 of her broadcasts to over 350 million people with an anti-Communist message to Europe. Another Stafford weekly half hour musical show was also beamed over Europe’s most powerful station. During this period, Frank Lee, then British Director of Radio Luxembourg, said, “In her own quiet way Stafford is selling America to Europe.” She also worked for “Voice of America” as a disk jockey and frequently had top name guests, playing their music. In 1952 she headed a bill at London’s prestigious Palladium.
On February 26, 1952 Stafford married Paul Weston and nine months later, their son, Tim was born, followed by a daughter, Amy in 1956. In 1954, she introduced her own television show The Jo Stafford Show on CBS-TV. During her work on television she attended a party of an entertainment executive who was married to Richard Rodger’s sister. Rodgers and his wife were also there and she was given a Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook and asked to sing. One of Rodgers fetishes was disdain for vocalists, who tried to style his music to fit their audiences and not the way he had written the music. With Rodgers at the piano, Stafford sang one of his selections and at the end both Rodgers and his wife indicated their pleasure with her vocal delivery indicating she had sung it exactly as he had written the ballad.
Stafford was later awarded plaques on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame for her records, radio and a third for television. Some of her major hits include: “You Belong to Me,” “Shrimp Boats,” written by husband Paul Weston, “Make Love to Me,” “Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin” with Frankie Laine, “Good Night Irene,” “Keep it a Secret,” and one of her favorite songs, Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are.” Between 1944 and 1954 she had 75 charted hits.
By the late 1950’ Stafford began to reduce the amount of time spent entertaining others by devoting more time to hertwo young children. Around this time her husband, Paul Weston, then music director of Columbia Records attended a convention in Key West, Florida. Later one evening he was in the bar playing the piano and began playing a comedy routine using the name Jonathan. Two executives from Columbia Records heard his satire and encouraged him to make a recording when he returned to California. He partnered with his wife and called her Darlene. For their comedy routine they selected renditions of popular songs they disliked. The outcome was a series of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards recordings. The results of their second album Jonathan and Darlene in Paris earned them a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 1960.
In 1961 the Weston family moved to London for the summer and Stafford did a television series for ATV British network, which was seen in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, as well as in Great Britain. Her guests included Ella Fitzgerald, who she considers the world’s greatestfemale singer, Bob Hope and comedian Peter Sellers.
Stafford has also teamed up with such notable performers as Frankie Laine, Gordon MacRae, Johnny Mercer, Dick Haymes and others. She combined with Paul Weston to record folk songs from the Appalachian Mountains entitled Jo Stafford Sings American Folk Songs and it marked the first time anyone had recorded folk songs using strings and an orchestra. Folk singer, Judy Collins remarked “Jo Stafford is one of the greatest singers of all time. Her recording of ‘Barbara Allen’ changed my views from Mozart to ‘Both Sides Now’.” It was so popular that the American Folklore Society established a Jo Stafford Prize in American Folklore as an endowment for students involved in the study of folklore and folk music that ran for several years in the early 1950s and a folk scholarship at UCLA.
She continued to make recordings up until the mid-60s when she retired because she felt she could not sing the current contemporary music being introduced to the American public. When asked what inspired her over the years, she said “It was the wonderful songwriters and songs that were being created. The music was the cream.” She once wrote, “If I had to come up with a one word description of this whole era, it would be ‘Fun’. We had such fun. I think because we took our work very seriously but not ourselves.”
Stafford and Weston were involved in philanthropic activities prior to Weston’s death on September 20, 1996. She was president of SHARE, one of Hollywood’s best known charitable organizations which specializes in helping mentally handicapped children. For many years, Weston was active in helping the Crippled Children Societies of California. Today, Jo Stafford lives in Beverly Hills, California and enjoys the pleasure of her four grandchildren.
Sings Broadway’s Best, Columbia, 1953.
Songs of Faith, Capitol, 1954.
Ski Trails, Columbia, 1956.
Happy Holidays, Columbia, 1955.
This Is Jo Stafford, Dot, 1956.
Ballad of the Blues, Columbia, 1959.
I’ll Be Seeing You, Columbia, 1959.
Ballad of the Blues, Columbia, 1959.
I Only Have Eyes For You, Columbia/Snowy Bleach, 1950’s.
Jo + Jazz, Columbia, 1960.
Jo + Blues, Columbia, 1960.
Once Over Lightly, Columbia, 1965.
Getting Sentimental Over Tommy, Reprise, 1965.
Look at Me Now, Bainbridge, 1982.
The Hits of Jo Stafford, Capitol, 1984.
Ski Trails, Corinthian, mid 80’s.
Jonathan & Darlene’s Greatest Hits, Corinthian, mid 80’s.
Jo Stafford, The Portrait Edition, Corinthian & Sony, 1994.
G. I. Jo, Corinthian, 1995.
Broadway Revisited, Corinthian, 1995.
Clarke, Donald, Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Penguin Books Ltd., 1989.
Eugene, Charles Claghorn, Biographical Dictionary of American Music, Parker Publishing Co., 1973.
Falzarano, Gino, Jo Stafford, the Portrait Edition, Liner Notes Gammond, Peter, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, Oxford Univ. Press 1993.
Larkin, Colin, Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 5, Guinness Publishing Ltd. 1995.
Lax, Roger and Frederick Smith-The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989.
Lees, Gene, Singers &the Song, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Maltin, Leonard, Movie & Video Guide, The Penguin Group, 1995.
Osborne, Jerry, Rockin Records, Osborne Publications, 1999.
Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 1966.
Warner, Jay, The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups, a History 1940-1990, Billboard Books 1992.
www.corinthianrecords.com, (January, 1999).
Additional information was obtained through two interviews with Jo Stafford on October 25, 1998 and November 1, 1998
—Francis D. McKinley
"Stafford, Jo." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/stafford-jo
"Stafford, Jo." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/stafford-jo