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I’ll Be Seeing You: Jo Stafford, 1917-2008

Jo Stafford, one of the last great vocalists from the "songbird" era of big band vocalists, passed away Wednesday at the age of 90.

Jo StaffordJo Stafford, one of the last great vocalists from the “songbird” era of big band vocalists, passed away Wednesday at the age of 90. A World War II icon dubbed “GI Jo” and beloved by soldiers for her performances and recordings such as “Long Ago and Far Away,” Stafford possessed one of the most graceful, limpid voices in the postwar popular music world, and she retained her popularity into the 1950s, scoring hits on her own and with Frankie Laine. She and husband Paul Weston also had a great put-on act called “Jonathan and Darlene Edwards,” in which the two mangled lounge standards; as DJ Rob Bamberger noted today, “Anybody can sing badly, but few can sing badly well.” (For more serious later Stafford albums, check out Jo + Jazz; though she was considered much more pop than jazz in her vocal style, no less an astute judge of jazz soul than Lester Young counted himself as a fan.)

Terry Teachout has offered up some apt reflections, and Bill Reed has posted a tribute as well that includes a link to an interview he did with Stafford. So far, the only newspaper obits I’ve seen come from the Washington Post and the London Telegraph; undoubtedly the New York Times and some other large newspapers will follow suit.

You can hear some selections from Jo Stafford’s 1959 Ballad of the Blues concept album on the Night Lights program Even White Girls Get the Blues.

UPDATE: NPR’s Jo Stafford segment and the New York Times’ obituary.

I also came across a good passage about Stafford from Will Friedwald’s book, Jazz Singing:

Jo Stafford exemplifies the postwar era more than any other songbird….Stafford’s singing speaks, you should forgive the expression, for the whole era: intonation that approaches Fitzgerald and Torme but doesn’t strive toward their ideal of improvisation and recomposition; a middle-range low soprano suggestive of a female (Dick) Haymes, however, never trying to achieve his warmth or his involvement. Stafford provides a respite from other styles by providing so little of her own…the lack of style is in itself a style, and Stafford’s cool melo-tones are infinitely preferable to the flocks of mike-moths who dub themselves “song stylists” to excuse their complete lack of voice.

Listen to Jo Stafford sing “Long Ago and Far Away”:

Watch Jo Stafford and Rosemary Clooney perform a pair of autumn standards:

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