Jo Stafford Discography

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‘A genuine feminine voice, that sings’


[Behind the counter of the museum’s cloakroom sat,] undeniably, a senior citizen, who had acquired his jacket in slenderer days. Before him stood a small radio from which he, turning with unwieldy fingers, elicited hoarse sounds of a temporary nature.
When I put my receipt down on his counter, he looked up at me and asked: ‘So do you know what I’m looking for, Sir?’
For in The Hague they still ‘sir’. The Amsterdammer deems that too submissive.
‘Are you looking for the news?’ I guessed.
‘No…’ he said. ‘I’m looking for the voice of a woman.’
He rose to his feet. While the radio murmured softly, he plodded to the hatrack with my ticket.
‘Do you have a particular liking?’ I asked.
‘It has to be a genuine feminine voice,’ he said. ‘A genuine feminine voice, that sings.’
He returned at the counter and laid my items before me.
‘That means a whole lot to me,’ he said.

(Translated from the short story ‘Over vrouwen’ [‘About women’], by the Dutch writer Simon Carmiggelt [1913-1987])


I don’t remember how old I was, the first time I read Carmiggelt’s story, but sure… I was old enough to feel what this man meant by ‘a genuine feminine voice, that sings’. I was old enough, but I hadn’t found it yet – and would not find it in many years.
In my teens, I used to listen to The Beatles – long after their music had been in vogue. At the age of 18, I switched to the likes of Handel, Bruckner, Britten and Shostakovich – until, a few years later, I came to prefer the sacred sounds of church organs and cathedral choirs. When my faith began to perish – I was in my forties when the seeds of my unbelief began to grow -, I started to scour YouTube, looking for rock sounds from a bygone era. ‘Home on a Monday’, ‘Mr. Blue Sky’, ‘God only knows’ and hymns like that. But for all those years, I had also been thirsty for fine, feminine voices to comfort me.
When my younger and more vulnerable years lay finally behind me, there was still no diva who had managed to captivate me for more than a month or two. Many a songstress tried to lure me, but it always ended in disappointment: I found their voices to be too thin or too flat, too preposterous or too uninspiring, too manly or even too erotic (can a woman’s voice ever sound too erotic? Well… listen to Julie London).

Maybe I would still be turning the knobs of my radio, hoping for ‘a genuine feminine voice, that sings’, if I wouldn’t have had that crazy idea to buy myself a Ricatech ‘jukebox’, a cheap and plastic replica of a Wurlitzer 1015 – and if I hadn’t come up with the childish plan to download 24 iTunes tracks from the late 1940’s, so that I could play them on my ‘jukebox’ and conjure my 2015 living room into a 1946 American diner.
For it was this childish plan which made that I, on a damp and cold Sunday morning in the midst of the fall, fetched my iPad, went back to my warm bed and started to listen to excerpts from ‘Big Hits & Highlights of 1946’. A few minutes later, I heard Jo Stafford perform ‘Day by Day’.

***

Evelyn Waugh writes, in his grandiose and epic ‘Brideshead Revisited’ (Lieutenant Hooper has just told Charles Ryder the name of the place where their army unit has arrived - Brideshead): 

‘On the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long forgotten sounds; for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror’s name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight’.

‘Someone’ in Brideshead virtually ‘switched off a wireless’, while I actually switched on an iTunes track, and yet – I feel the same emotions as soon as I recall that first time I heard Jo Stafford sing. For I had heard a voice, endowed with such an astounding range of qualities – both charming and stately, both earthy and ethereal, both creamy and pure – that, at its mere sound, my stifling discontent took flight – together with the anxiety and the sadness which had been with me for so long. I knew, on the instant, that I had found my ‘genuine feminine voice, that sings’. 

Unlike most people my age, I already knew the name Jo Stafford. In my teens, I possessed a book full of facsimile pages from the long gone, Dutch musical magazine Tuney Tunes. I remembered, more than thirty years on, that I had seen her name on those historic pages. But my memories were twisted, because I thought to remember she was just a singer of sacred songs. iTunes soon taught me, to my relief, that I was mistaken: after ‘Day by Day’, I found ‘Tim-Tayshun’ (ouch… what was that?), but also ‘Ivy’, ‘Congratulations’, and ‘If’. The line ‘How I wish the lucky one were me!’ from ‘Congratulations’ brought tears to my eyes, and I ordered a handful of CD’s right away. Man, how I loved them…

I heard how sweet Jo sounded in ‘Roses Of Picardy’,
and how moving, in ‘Carry Me Back To Old Virginny’.
I heard a singing virtuoso in ‘Jolly Jo’,
and an alluring temptress in ‘I’m So Right Tonight’ (just listen to her final ‘I’m so right tonight’, 2.33 minutes into the song).
‘Just Because You’re You’ demonstrates her mature side,
while she’s ultimately feminine in ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’.
Jo sounds angelic, not only in ‘Ave Maria’ but also in ‘Once To Every Heart’ (listen to her ‘heart’ at 1.51),
and a loving mother in ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’ (declamated with the help of her young son Tim).

Like most fans, I guess, I press the ‘Skip forward’ button of the CD player, every time I hear the intro of ‘Just Another Polka’ or ‘Piece A-Puddin’’ (why, Mitch Miller… why?). But if, after a hideous tune like ‘Hambone’, Paul Weston raises his baton and leads his orchestra through the majestic opening bars of ‘We Mustn’t Say Goodbye’, we know we’ll never be forlorn again – because these sounds will stay with us, until the very end of our days.
I know it sounds pathetic, but am I wrong when I declare Ms Stafford’s music to be ‘a soothing ointment for the soul’?

When you recall how your cat purred on your lap while you had your Sunday morning coffee.
When you recall how the girl you loved stood there, making love to the guy you thought you’d beaten.
When you recall that December afternoon you had to say goodbye to your mother - the mist on the frosted fields foretelling her forthcoming death.
When you recall how the sun touched the meadows of your youth, when life lay before you and you still hadn’t wasted all those chances.


Then, you can pick a disc and listen to the warm sounds of ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’ and… feel better. That’s why I often act like the man in Carmiggelt’s ‘About women’ – who, later in the story, recalls how listening to the wireless comforted him while sheltering from the enemy, in Wartime Holland:

‘And if there was a woman singing, a real woman I mean, then I sat there (…) and listened, ever so quietly. I drew, as it were, new vital strength from that voice.’

(I know it cannot have been her, because the Germans had banned British and American music from my occupied country. But for me…) That woman must have been Jo Stafford.

Jörgen Breeman (52), the Netherlands


'EACH RECORDING WAS AN ART SONG'


First, this web site is an absolutely amazing resource. Just amazing. I have tried in vain to secure a comprehensive discography of Capitol’s 78 RPM years in order to order my recordings of Jo Stafford and several other singers in the Capitol catalog.

Born in 1950, I originally heard some of Stafford’s Columbia work when I was a kid. I wasn’t terribly impressed. I was never a big rock ’n’ roller when I was young. More of a Doris Day type who graduated over to theatre and classical music by my very early teens.
However, in the early CD era, Capitol started their Collectors Series of releases. One of the early ones was Jo Stafford. That album just blew me away. I kept on playing it over and over and over. That voice and Weston’s arrangements were so integrated that each recording was an art song. I had to find more, so I started collecting every CD I could find over the years, with the emphasis on the Capitol years. Although I like some of her Columbia sides, Mitch Miller made her sing such G-d awful stuff (as he did with everybody under contract with Columbia) that it’s really hard to listen to her. And I don’t think she was recorded particularly well at Columbia, and she started to belt more in the fifties which took away from that pure voice you hear in the 1940s.

I look forward to your rearranging the data by recording session date.

Stewart Gooderman (68), Albany, California