Sunday, January 24, 2010

Classic Music Artist of the Week

Jo Stafford is admired by singers for her extremely pure voice. However, she may be most fondly remembered not as Jo Stafford but as Darlene Edwards, one half of a husband-and-wife singer-pianist act. Jo as Darlene was a pioneer in the music industry as one of the very first singers to parody songs and even release an entire album of parody ("Darlene and Jonathan Edwards in Paris").

Jo is known for her traditional pop music but, she grew up wanting to become and Opera singer. This was a dream of hers until the Depression hit and instead joined her sisters Christine and Pauline in forming the Stafford Sisters, who would regularly appear on local radio in Los Angeles. In 1937, the group helped arrange songs for the Frad Astaire move "A Damsel in Distress" and provided the back-up vocals for "Nice Work if You Can Get It", which appeared in the film.

After her sistered were married off, Jo joined a realatively new group called the Pied Pipers. She was the only girl amongst eight men. Their music appeared on radio and in movies. Eventually, they caught the ear of Paul Weston, an arranger for Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey signed them to a ten week contract for his radio show but, the sponser heard them and greatly disliked them. They were fired. Half of the group returned to Los Angeles but everybody found it hard to find work. In 1939, the group was signed with Tommy Dorsey to join his Big Band. This led to tremendous success for Jo, who was given many solo performances. They left the Band after an argument with Dorsey in 1942.

Not long after they left the Dorsey Band, they were signed to Johnny Mercer's new lable, Capitol Records. Capitol's musical director was none other than Paul Weston, who had been instrumental in introducing Jo to Dorsey. The two began a romance and married in 1952.

In early 1944, Jo left the Pied Pipers for an exlusively solo career. During that year she had a stint in the USO, entertaining troups stationed overseas where she earned the nickname "G.I. Jo". Later that year, she began hosting the Tuesday and Thurday broadcasts of the Chesterfield Supper Club, a musical variety show. Her musical success continued into the early 1960s.

Stafford also tried her hand at comedy under the name "Cinderella G. Stump". Here, she recorded a hillbilly version of "Temptation" (pronounced "Tim-tayshun"). This was not a successful recording. Comedic success would come to her but, only when she wasn't trying for it.

Through the 50s, Jo and Paul would entertain guests by performing a skit with the identities of Darlene and Jonathan Edwards, a bad lounge act. Jo (as Darlene) would sing with an off-key and extremely high-pitch voice and Paul would play an untuned pian with bizzare rhythms. In 1957, after she finished a recording session early, Jo and Paul recorded a song as the Edwards. Those who heard the song responded very positively. The next year the couple recorded an entire album as the bad lounge act called "Jo Stafford and Paul Weston Present: The Original Piano Artistry of Jonathan Edwards, Vocals by Darlene Edwards". As a publicity stunt, Jo and Paul claimed to have discovered the lounge act in New Jersey and denied any personal connection. This lead to a public sensation as the public tried to uncover the identities of the bad musicians. Some even suggested Maraget and Harry Truman. Some years past before people realized (and Jo and Paul adimitted) that Stafford and Weston were indeed the Edwardses. Their success as this act would continue for years until the released their final Edwards single, a cover of the Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive".

Stafford went into retirement in 1975, coming out for the occasional performance. In the early 90s, she won a lawsuite against her former record labels, recieving the rights to all her recording, including the Darlene and Jonathan Edwards recording. She would start the Corinthian Records label with Paul. Under this label, she released many Edwards compilation albums. Paul died in 1996 of natural causes. Jo continued to operate the Corinthian lable until her death on July 16, 2008 at the age of 90.

Here is a sample of Jo's marvelous voice. A sample of the Edwards music can be found in the pervious blog post.

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