Jo Stafford has died at 90 years of age. Stafford was one of the great singers of the 20th century. Her luscious voice insinuates itself permanently in the ear of anyone who hears it. (Those of you who, like me, grew up listening to Stafford on the radio, know exactly what I mean.)
Ironically, the velvety Stafford earned her greatest accolades -- and only Grammy -- through her pseudonymous, comedic efforts as the off-key, rhythmically-challenged distaff half of the duo Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. ("Jonathan Edwards" was Stafford's husband, pianist and bandleader Paul Weston, who died in 1996.) They did send ups of popular songs the way Anna Russell approached opera. (It's no surprise that Amazon.com also links Jonathan and Darlene to parodist Florence Foster Jenkins and that 1960s oddity, Mrs. Miller, too; but they were so much better than either.)
Adam Bernstein explains their style (and appeal) in the Washington Post today:
Terry Teachout has a wonderful tribute, which I can't better. He has links to all the major obituaries.
For years, the Westons had privately developed for friends a comedy routine satirizing bad entertainers. Music executives urged them to record under their adopted persona of two clueless nightclub performers, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards.
The result was several hit records that triggered a national sensation: trying to identify the artists behind the brazenly off-key singing and piano-playing of dubious ability and taste.
Some thought they were Margaret and Harry Truman, Time magazine reported.
The liner notes to the Edwardses' debut album were deadpan: "Mr. Edwards places what he calls 'emotional honesty' first in importance. He believes that technical accuracy, slavish adherence to original harmonies and melody are secondary. Mrs. Edwards returned from private life to take part in this album, selecting her own repertoire of sophisticated songs, several of which she originally introduced in Trenton, N.J."
Jo Stafford might have sung "you belong to me," but she belongs to all of us, and to the ages.