Childhood & Early Life
Jo Stafford was born Jo Elizabeth Stafford, on November 12, 1917, in Coalinga, California, to Grover Cleveland Stafford and Anna Stafford. She was the third of the four children of her parents.
Jo’s family was extremely fond of music. They played all kinds of music, making their children develop an interest in the art form. Jo’s mother, Anna, was an accomplished banjo player. Anna was adamant on making her children pursue music and thus enrolled all of them into piano classes. Jo was the only one of the children who focused on learning music seriously.
Jo’s father, Grover, hoped to find success in the rising oil market of America. Thus, the family moved to California from Tennessee. By the time she was 12 years old, the family had moved to Long Beach, where Jo made her first musical appearance.
Anna had nurtured Jo herself. They tried out different genres of singing, eventually zeroing in on opera. Thus, Jo began training to become an opera singer. Jo also began singing publically in her pre-teen years.
She joined the ‘Long Beach Polytechnic High School’ and took private lessons from Foster Rucker, who was an announcer working in the local radio.
Jo had hoped to begin working as an opera singer, when the Great Depression hit America. She then decided to form a band with her sisters instead, as the demand for opera singers had lessened.
By then, her two older sisters, Pauline and Christine, had already begun their musical careers and had formed a trio with an unrelated third member. Jo was included in the trio when the third member left. Following this, the trio was renamed ‘The Stafford Sisters.’
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Jo’s real career began when the family moved to Los Angeles. ‘The Stafford Sisters’ found enormous success in the radio scene in the 1930s. Their first radio appearance took place at the ‘KHJ’ station in Los Angeles, where the girls sang as part of ‘The Happy Go Lucky Hour’ radio show. They gained immense popularity on the radio and were featured on a few more such shows.
They eventually found work as backup vocalists in the film industry. Soon after she graduated high school, Jo began working in films, playing the piano occasionally, and singing.
In the mid-1930s, the sisters released their first recording, ‘Let’s Get Together and Swing.’ They also worked on the soundtrack of the hugely successful film named ‘A Damsel in Distress.’
However, soon after they started attaining success, ‘The Stafford Sisters’ began facing troubles. The band began falling apart. Apparently, the sisters were getting married, and it was becoming difficult for them to work together. Jo left the band and joined an eight-member group named ‘The Pied Pipers,’ as their lead singer.
‘The Pied Pipers’ became famous gradually, owing to their successful local performances. They were eventually offered to create soundtracks for films. Their unprecedented success got them in touch with popular bandleader Tommy Dorsey, who hired ‘The Pied Pipers’ for his orchestra.
‘The Pied Piper’ eventually traveled to New York City to sing for a radio show called ‘The Raleigh-Kool Show.’ The audition was successful, and the group was hired to play for 10 weeks on one of the most popular radio shows in the country.
However, the businessman who was sponsoring the show and who had not heard them play until then, finally did when they appeared on the show. Unfortunately, he did not like them. Thus, ‘The Pied Pipers’ were eventually fired from the show. Following this, they were stranded in New York, without much money. However, they found some gigs and managed to gather enough money to be able to go back to California.
On returning, the group disbanded, as many of its members left. In 1942, the band got into a bad argument with bandleader Tommy Dorsey. Following this, they quit his orchestra and found work at local radio stations.
Meanwhile, Jo went solo in 1944. Following this, he became one of the most successful singers of her era, becoming particularly popular with servicemen, who called her “G.I. Jo.”
Some of her songs, such as ‘I Love You’ and ‘Candy,’ became chartbusters in the mid-1940s.
In 1950, Jo was signed by ‘Columbia Records,’ and due to her popularity, she was given her own TV show, ‘The Jo Stafford Show.’ The show started airing on ‘CBS’ in 1954.
She was at the peak of her career in the 1950s, with successful records such as ‘Jambalaya,’ ‘You Belong to Me,’ ‘Make Love to Me,’ and ‘Shrimp Boats.’ However, she also found time to joke around in the recording studio. During one such occasion, she and her husband, Paul Weston, sang parodies of classic songs.
The idea stayed with them, and they recorded an entire parody album titled ‘Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris,’ which was released in 1960. The album struck a chord with critics and became a critical success, earning them the ‘Grammy’ for the ‘Best Comedy Album’ that year.
Jo retired partially in 1966, following which she appeared in a few films as an actor. She retired from the entertainment industry permanently in 1975.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Jo married musician John Huddleston in 1937, when she was just 20 years old. He was also a member of the band ‘The Pied Pipers.’ The marriage did not last long, and the couple divorced in 1943.
Jo then married musician Paul Weston in 1952, and the couple remained together until his death in 1996. They had two children together.
Jo passed away from natural causes on July 16, 2008, at the age of 90.