Friday, August 1, 2008

Jo Stafford, 1917-2008

Jo Stafford, the big band era singer, died last month. Her biggest hit was You Belong To Me, the song whose first lyric is "See the pyramids across the Nile...", which gave her the first number one hit of her career in 1952. She was the original female singer in The Pied Pipers, but left the group when she started having hits on her own in 1944. She hooked up with the U.S.O., and gave so many performances to the troops she got the nickname G.I. Jo.

Of all the great tunes she recorded, my favorite song she sang was Long Ago (and Far Away), written by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Ira Gershwin. The song was introduced in the 1944 movie Cover Girl, starring Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth, and it was an instant classic. It's been recorded a jillion times, but in 1944 alone, it was recorded by Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Helen Forrest and Dick Haymes, the great Austrian tenor Richard Tauber, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and an instrumental by The Three Suns. The versions by Crosby, Como, Stafford and the duet by Forrest and Haymes all were on the chart, nearly simultaneously. Besides this being my favorite song by Jo Stafford, it's my favorite version of all the countless recordings. You can hear her here at YouTube.

The song is simplicity itself, just a verse without a chorus repeated three times, the second and third verse sharing the same lyric. Like with many songs, the high notes are the big dramatic point, but they aren't operatically difficult, and the warmth and sweetness of the song comes from the tune when it is sung in the low and middle notes. Warmth and sweetness were Jo Stafford's strong suits, along with a clear tone to her voice and wonderful diction. Her voice was there to serve the song, not the other way around. Here are Gershwin's lyrics.

Long ago and far away, I dreamed a dream one day
And now that dream is here beside me.
Long the skies were overcast but now the clouds have passed;
You're here at last.

Chills run up and down my spine, Aladdin's lamp is mine,
The dream I dreamed was not denied me.
Just one look and then I knew
That all I longed for long ago was you.

God bless and keep Jo Stafford, and if choirs of angels sing thee to thy rest, Jo, let them sing as sweetly as you did. Best wishes to her family and friends, from a fan.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Rip Jo.

namastenancy said...

Nice obit - I think that she was one of my grandfather's favorite singers as well. This brought back some nice times, playing cards with my grandfather and listening to his big old radio.

PseudoPiskie said...

I was in Junior High when Jo's big hit was popular. "See the pyramids along the Nile" referred to the female torso as far as we were concerned. Funny memories.

dguzman said...

I loved her version of "Where or When" as well. They don't make 'em like Jo Stafford anymore. RIP, Jo.