Saturday, July 19, 2008


In a remarkable coincidence, Jo Stafford, the first pop star to sell 25 million records, died on July 16th, the same day as comic singers Darlene Edwards and Cinderella G. Stump!
All right. Same person. 90 years old.
Since the illfolks blog tilts toward the odd, let's just briefly sketch some basics on the woman's MOR side. Jo Stafford was similar to Patti Page, Doris Day, or Rosemary Clooney, but less well known now because she didn't make hit movies or photogenic album covers, and retired fairly young.
Jo was the only female member of the annoying "Pied Pipers," a quartet that backed Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra, and Johnny Mercer. They tended toward ooky crooning or way too hearty chorusing. She moved on, but kept their style, as a soloist, another reason she's not popular with the retro or lounge crowd. Her 40's music suffers from big band cliches including dated, lumbering swing beats and middle aged men backing her in the chorus. Things like "Watcha Know Joe" are unendurable, in the same league as thrift shop Mitch Miller albums. Novelty hits like "Shrimp Boats" just sink. Today's listener has to really pick and choose through a greatest hits collection or later (1960's "Jo + Jazz") albums to find songs that do her justice.
Rosemary Clooney described Jo's voice best: "beautiful, pure, straightforward, no artifice, matchless intonation, instantly recognizable. Those things describe the woman too."
A few times Jo took a serendipitous dippy detour from straight tunes to dopey ditties.
In 1947, Jo noticed Red Ingle rehearsing a parody of "Temptation." She was so amused, she asked if she could sing it. The girl hired for the session was paid off and Jo took over, recording as "Cinderella G. Stump." The song became a Top 10 hit.
In 1957, Jo had some free time left over at the recording studio and goofed around with some deliberate off-key singing. She was urged to make a comedy album, and as "Darlene Edwards" (with husband Paul Weston on piano as Jonathan, the pianist with two left hands) issued some "so bad it's funny" discs. Jo's queasy "I Love Paris" was a notable fracture (a song also butchered by Leona Anderson on her "Music to Suffer By" album). Following The Cherry Sisters and Florence Foster Jenkins, two notorious examples of strange vocalizing, the Edwards' success revived the genre and led to "Morris" Garner's ham-fisted lp parody of Errol Garner, and pooped pop albums from Sam Chalpin and Mrs. Miller among others. Of course guys like Homer & Jethro went out of tune deliberately for a laugh, too: "Gimme an E flat." "You know I can't play an E flat." "Then gimme an E, and I'll flatten it out m'self!"
Folks who hate pop standards still chuckle at the way the duo warped 'em. Back in 1961 "Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris" netted a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. Ironically, Jo Stafford never won one for straight singing. The Edwards' bent take on "Carioca" was used in "The Kentucky Fried Movie."
In 1977, the duo un-retired for a single, "Stayin' Alive" b/w "I am Woman." Paul Weston died in 1996. He and Jo were able to get the rights back to much of their back catalog (straight and humorous) for their own Corinthian label, and re-issues serve as a legacy to the artists and income for their children.
Your trio of samples highlight Jo's humor: the hillbilly song with Red Ingle, a sample of vintage Darlene, and her comeback shot at The Bee Gees.
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1 comment:

Hazy Dave said...

Heh, I bought a Jon & Dar Edwards LP a couple years ago, and had no idea it was Jo Stafford and Paul Weston until now. Not that I know or care much about them anyway, but it's interesting to learn some of the background info to an amusing spoof.