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July 19th, 2008

Belonging [Jul. 19th, 2008|10:48 pm]
I remember sitting in the den with the big windows at the back of our house in Garvey Hills in 1952, when I was seven years old, listening to the radio as the sky darkened and the city lights came on in the valley below. One of the songs they played most often that year was Jo Stafford's biggest hit, "You Belong to Me", one of a string of highly successful pop songs she recorded in the 1950s. I would think of how the same song would be playing on radios all across the town, in houses and in cars, and how it might also be playing on the juke boxes of the cafes and drive-ins along the boulevard I could glimpse bits of a mile or so away on the valley floor. The song's list of exotic locations, and the melancholy longing in the singer's voice conspired to remind me of my recently discovered awareness of distance, and of the passage of time.

At that age I was unaware of Stafford's earlier, usually jazzier, work, and her tour de force comedy albums with her husband, Paul Weston, issued under the names Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, were several years in the future, but she was already one of my favorite singers. My appreciation of her remarkable voice and impeccable phrasing has only grown since then, and her comedic talent proved equal to her best serious work. Fans of "The Kentucky Fried Movie" will probably recall her flawlessly flawed send-up of "The Carioca", originally from one of the Jonathan and Darlene albums, on the soundtrack of that film.

Only recently did I discover that she and her sisters dubbed the voices of the Madrigal singers who performed Gershwin's "Nice Work if You Can Get It" in the 1937 film "Damsel In Distress." She was already an accomplished singer at the age of nineteen, and only got better.

Jo Stafford died last Wednesday, July 16, in Century City, California, at the age of 90. She leaves one of the most remarkable collections of work produced by any pop singer of the 20th century.

Jo Stafford
You Belong to All

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