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To soldiers in WWII, Korea, she was ‘GI Jo'

Jo Stafford, the honey-voiced band singer who starred in radio and television and sold more than 25 million records with her ballads and folk songs, has died. She was 90.

Stafford died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at her Century City, Calif., home, her son, Tim Weston, said Friday.

Stafford had 26 charted singles and nearly a dozen top 10 hits, her son said. She won a Grammy for her humor.

Stafford's records of “I'll Walk Alone,” “I'll Be Seeing You,” “I Don't Want to Walk Without You” and other sentimental songs struck the hearts of servicemen far from home in World War II and the Korean War. They awarded her the title of “GI Jo.”

In 1939, she was working with a group of male singers called the Pied Pipers. The group was invited to join the Tommy Dorsey band, a big attraction in the swing era. Soon the Pied Pipers were singing in major hotels and ballrooms and on radio.

A year later, 24-year-old Frank Sinatra joined Dorsey after a brief stint with Harry James, and he and the Pied Pipers melded ideally. Their languorous “I'll Never Smile Again” became the No. 1 hit for 12 weeks and sold 2 million copies. A half-century later, Sinatra remarked about Stafford, “It was a joy to sit on the bandstand and listen to her.”

Stafford recorded more than 800 songs during a versatile career that included ballads, folk, Scottish, country and novelty songs. She even tried comedy. She and Dorsey arranger Paul Weston recorded an album of numbers on which she sang painfully off-key and he played miserable piano. They were billed as Jonathan and Darlene, but their identity was soon discovered. A second album won them a Grammy in 1960 for best comedy album.

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