Born Joan Carmello Babbo on September 22, 1930, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Angelo Babbo and Mary Tareso Babbo, the oldest of four children; married Tony Acquaviva, 1955 (died September 17, 1986); married General Bernard Adolf Schriever, 1997; two adopted children: MichelAngelo and Angela Mia. Education: Attended Northern Illinois State Teachers College and Los Angeles Community College. Addresses: Manager--Alan Eichler, Personal Manager, 6064 Selma Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028.; Fan club--Joni James International Fan Club, P.O. Box 7207, Westchester, IL 60154-7207 E-mail: joni-fanclub@jonijames.com.

Pop singer Joni James has a voice that is crystal clear and carries a melancholy sound deep within it. She has perfect pitch which grew out of the frequent singing of Gregorian chants. James was born Joan Carmello Babbo on September 22, 1930, in the southeast side of Chicago, Illinois, the oldest of four children born to an Italian immigrant father, Angelo Babbo, and Mary Tareso, a first generation Italian. Angelo Babbo was only 18 when he came to America seeking a better life. He had learned to sing operatic arias as a shepherd boy.

James was not yet five years old when her father died of cancer at the age of 36, leaving his wife five months pregnant. It was the Depression and times were very hard for Mary and her four children. James recalled, "She would cry a lot" and make games out of poverty to make life less grim for her children. James attended St. Peter and St. Paul Elementary School where she sang in the school choir at daily mass, vocalized Gregorian chants, and realized she was poor when the nuns would ask for money to pay for books and she had none. James told Contemporary Musicians: "The experience of being poor was a great benefit because it gave me a greater depth and appreciation when we later lived in affluent Beverly Hills, California." The family spoke Italian in their home and as a child, James began to learn Italian folk songs. During the summertime the facilities at a nearby public park were used to provide free dance lessons to children of the area. The lessons stimulated James' passion to become a dancer.

When James was 14, she entered high school, sang in the school choir, became feature editor of the school paper, and packed cookies at a local bakery for eight dollars a week. Half of the money went toward ballet lessons and the other half to helping her family. Her name was misspelled in the school paper so she changed it to "Joni." James was also active in the Civic Opera Ballet in Chicago and told Contemporary Musicians, "My heartfelt dream was to go to New York to appear in the American Ballet Theater." She wanted to be a prima ballerina and never gave much thought to singing. In 1948, James was a high school honor student and was offered a college journalism scholarship to Northern Illinois State Teachers College. After graduation, James participated in Ernie Young's Review as a dancer, performing in several Canadian cities. Later that summer she turned the scholarship offer down to pursue her goal of becoming a dancer. James began modeling in Chicago to save money to go to New York. She was not only very attractive, but wore a size four shoe and was barely over five feet tall, which was advantageous in the modeling profession. Management encouraged her to select a new surname, and she used the telephone book to arbitrarily select the name "James" because it was easy to remember and fit nicely with her high school nickname.

James had an appendectomy which restricted her dancing. A friend who was going on her honeymoon approached James and asked if she would substitute for her as a singer at a nearby family beer garden club in Rochester, Indiana. James performed a dance from the Nutcracker Suiteat the club but drew little attention. However, when she began to sing George Gershwin's "Embraceable You," accompanied by only a church pianist, everyone turned their chair around and paid close attention and expressed great delight. "It was a stunning experience. I was used to people liking my songs but I thought it was because I was friendly and being nice," James told Contemporary Musicians. She later performed at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago as a chorus girl.

When James was appearing at the Vines Garden Club in Chicago, she was noticed and signed to a contract by the Sharp Company where she did commercials for Zenith televisions and others. She sang "Let There Be Love" on television station WGN and was noticed by Lew Douglas of MGM Records which led to a major recording contract. Her first major recording sessions in 1952 produced "Why Don't You Believe Me," which rose to the top of the charts, selling more than two million copies, and remained on the best seller charts for an amazing six months. Originally titled "You Should Believe Me," James suggested that it be changed to more appropriately fit the lyrics. Variety magazine named it to its "Fifty Year Hit Parade" for 1952. James had also paid for and staged the recording session herself.

She became one of the very first popular singers to take country hits and help them make their transition to popular music, including such Hank Williams hits as "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Cold, Cold Heart." James and Williams were scheduled to sing together; the night he died, she was at MGM studios recording "Your Cheatin' Heart." Her version sold more than two million copies rising to number seven on the charts. Later James performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, and was one of the first "city ladies" to perform there. She appeared there on three additional occasions. Country singer Conway Twitty was such a big fan, he named his daughter after James.

In 1955, James married her arranger and conductor Tony Acquaviva, a former West Point cadet and band participant at the Academy, who had also been a winner on the "Major Bowes Amateur Hour" with his brother Nick. They had met when she began recording for MGM studios where he had closely worked with composer Leonard Bernstein. Acquaviva was in the orchestral department recording instrumentals and also managed disk jockeys in New York City. Acquaviva skillfully made arrangements that blended violins and other stringed instruments for James. Through him she had heard "My Love, My Love," which had been written by Nick Acquaviva and New York disk jockey Bob Haymes, the brother of vocalist Dick Haymes. It became a huge hit for James and reached the top of the charts. In the mid 1950s, when James appeared at the Paramount Theater in New York, four of the top ten charted hits belonged to her, including "Purple Shades," "Have You Heard," "How Important Can It Be," and "Your Cheatin' Heart." "Have You Heard" sold more than three million records, and "How Important Can It Be" more than four million copies.

James' television credits include appearances on major television shows including Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, Andy Williams and others. She has performed in many countries around the globe including Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, Canada, and many countries in Europe on behalf of the United States State Department for the armed forces, receiving a USO award for her patriotism.

In the mid-Sixties, James' husband accidentally received a massive overdose of insulin from his doctors to treat diabetes; he had been switched to another kind of insulin that was five times more potent. In 1964, James abandoned her entertainment career to care for her children and her ill husband until his death in 1986.

In 1997, James married General Bernard Adolf Schriever, who was the developer of the United States ballistic missile program and the Air Force's initial space program. Schriever encouraged James to resume her career and soon she ended her retirement and began singing to sold-out audiences at venues around the country including the Lincoln Center and her sixth appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1999.

by Francis D. McKinley

Joni James's Career

Major hit songs include "How Important Can It Be," "Have You Heard," "My Love, My Love," "Why Don't You Believe Me," "Wishing Ring," "Purple Shades," and "Your Cheatin' Heart;" has recorded almost 700 songs on more than 50 albums; sixth appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City, 1999.

Joni James's Awards

Big Band Hall of Fame, 1998; Rock & Roll Museum, 1997; Hollywood Walk of Fame, Television Hall of Fame, New York City; 24 platinum records; 12 gold records.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

BooksOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 2 years ago

i have always loved your music,such a sweet beautiful voice.bona natale joni.

over 2 years ago

i have always loved joni's music,such a sweet beautiful voice.bona natale joni.love you.

over 2 years ago

joni will always be the greatest female singer . she sings from her heart with deep feelings .

over 2 years ago

Joni was my very favorite singer as a teenager growing up in upstate New York. She sounds as good to me now as she did then.

almost 3 years ago

Joni James has always been my idol. I had the distinct pleasure of standing next to her and talking with her,just like a regular person when I was a contestant on a game show in LA back in the 60's. I am thrilled to know she is still performing I hope she goes on forever.

about 3 years ago

Thanks for the memories Joni, we loved you and your music... I danced to many of your songs through my teen years, you will always be in our hearts.

about 3 years ago

I graduated high school 1957 and i sang during my high school years. I adored and loved Joni James. I have all her records They called me the voice of Joni James I will never forget her.I then met my husband and danced the first dance to one of her songs Hope she is well and happy

over 3 years ago

i was drafted into the army and was serving in germany in 1953-54. i will never forget joni's wonderful voice coming over the radio almost every day. i so looked forward to listening to her.she had a large part of my coping with the home sickness that i was experiencing at that time.i listen to you quite often. i named my third daughter joni after you. thanks.

over 3 years ago

I was born in 1955. My mother named me Joni after you. As a child, I hated my name because in the 50s and 60s most girls my age were named Susan, Patty, Debbie, Linda, Nancy, etc. But not am unusual name like Joni. as an adult, I have come to love my name. When I tell people I was named after a singer, people say " Joni Mitchell?" and I proudly tell them no, Joni James. I would love to hear from you. My mother died in1984 and she loved your music. Join Ann Yale Alberg

over 3 years ago

was a good friend of Tony and Joni, Their son Michael was a very good boy as well as his sister Angela, they stayed very close to their mom and dad. Joni and Toni named their children after Toni's record company Michael-Angelo. Joni if you read this I am now living in Canada. I'm sorry about Toni, and my sudden departure. I enjoyed our long memorable talks out by the pool and in the den..I still have the autographed album of you in Carnege Hall I put it on disk since record players out out..I guess you sold the house in BH. contact me...Len

over 3 years ago

I met my wife in high school and we were one year apart. I graduated in 1954 and she in 1955. We loved all the love songs that Joni did. We married inOctober 1954 and I just lost her to cancer on May 4th 2010. I have all of Joni's songs on my MP3 player and listen to them everyday on my run. I get so much solace hearing those great ballads and it makes me feel close to my wife. Thank you Joni for keeping the love that I have for my wife alive. Dave

over 3 years ago

At the age of 50, I just discovered this wonderful woman, this voice from heaven. I was doing an internet search for all the words for "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" to get my new granddaughter to sleep. Last night I must have listened to at least 10 songs, and baby Aislin fell alseep while I rocked her back and forth in my wheelchair. I will have to do a search to see if I can find her CD's...what a beautiful spirit and I pray that she is in good health. CJ

about 4 years ago

From way back in the early 1950s when I was a young child, I vividly recall hearing Joni on the radio, and also from the 78s that my parents would play. Later, she would be on tv, and I was always happy to stop what I was doing to see/hear Joni as she'd sing and talk... After all these years, I continue to love Joni's "GIFT OF VOICE." Nostalgia hits me each time her songs are heard by me -- so many wonderful songs! "Have You Heard?" Yes, Joni, we have heard - and I thank you so much for enriching my existence!!! A concert by you in S.W. Florida would be awesome... LG

about 4 years ago

Joni James songs were the favorite for my girl friend & I when we were teenagers....before joining the air force in May of 1953 we saw her at Ciro's nite club in Hollywood....our favorite song as we danced was "why don't you believe me"....it was a nite I never forgot.

about 4 years ago

I have loved Joni since I first heard her when I was in high school.When I joined the USAF, I took her records with me. She always seemed to be singing just to me. I have a lot of her albums and enjoy both her earlier songs which were her's only and the later ones which were mainly 'standards'. I was alway sorry tha all her albums only had pictures of her face. (Except 'Little Girl Blue') I missed her when she retired and was very glad when she came back. Her music will live forever with lovers the world over.

over 4 years ago

My brother sent an e-mail to me of old songs and I was spellbound for 30 minutes listening to my favorites of Joni. When compared to the so-called modern singers, she rises high above them. She has a pure voice and a fantastic selection of material. I'm going out and buy a CD of hers today and wish she'd do more concert work...even at age 80.

over 4 years ago

she so rocked my socks

over 4 years ago

Joni James... Well, I have searched Goodwill stores and the like looking for your records and with some success. Your voice is one of a kind and so pure...it's a shame you are not still appearing, but I quite understand that we live in a very different time and sadly there aren't any voices to compare to your sweet sound. I do have some of the old lp's but nothing to play them on. sigh, and they call it progress. So glad you are still with us, thank you for the many pleasant hours listening to your beautiful music. My favourite is Purple Shades but I love them all. God bless you.

over 4 years ago

I lost my husband 2 years ago after 52 years of marriage. While in high school in the 1950's I fell in love with her music. After all these years I did not know her history. How wonderful. Anyhow, one morning while feeling meloncholy her song came out of the blue "My love, My love" came into my mind. Then the tears came as I looked back and remembered her voice as well as the song that will always be in my heart. I feel as though I am telling my husband, once again, how I feel. That is how her music affected me. Now I am going out to the garage to look for her records on the many 78's that are stored there. She is surely an angel. Still performing above. The internet is so wonderful in so many ways.

about 5 years ago

I began my college days in the late 50s at the University of Kentucky. I will never forget the songs played on WVLK and WLAP, including those of Joni James. She was the best. Her voice was pure and perfect. Her early days were hard. Her professional days were awesome. Now, she must be an angel. Joni James--a voice to remember!!!!

about 5 years ago

My all time favorite album by Joni was Joni James at Carnegie Hall. She performed it with Tony conducting the Symphony of the Air and Chorus. 100 men and 20 voices on May 3, 1959. I played it so many times I nearly wore it out. I could only imagine the thrill she must have had performing on that magnificent stage. In the early 60's I was entertaining some customers in New Orleans where Joni was performing in a dinner theater. After her performance, I saw Tony walking out of the room and I approached and told him how much I had enjoyed the Carnegie Hall album. He said "did you tell that to Joni?" I was taken aback and I said "no, I don't know her". He brought her to our table and both of them sat and chatted for a few minutes. I was in heaven.

about 5 years ago

Thoroughly enjoyed the biography above.Some of the comments that I was unaware of were...Joni James was ill also at the time of her husband. I didn't know she had a brother Pete. I've. If anyone of your personnel is interested I have all her recordings. All her video appearances on vhs and dvd with academy award night joni james sang The 5 Pennies" ed sullivan, milton berle,steve allen,perry como also several concerts in syracuse, new york and atlantic city,new jersey,and chicago's Wellington Theater..first comeback concert,etc. I don't have joni as a guest on andy williams,eddie fisher. I need a video copy of the carneghi hall appearances and town hall, new york. i have access to the carneghi hall appearances but its been on hold. I have all the articles that have ever been published from the variety magazine to Look magazines. I hve cassette recordings of her early and recent interviews with sheila graham etc...I am looking for joni james newsletters when carol reed was her secretarysometime in the 1950's. could you help me with any of the items above that i am collecting? maybe we can share or trade...thank you for your academy award web page...looking forward in hearing from you....FM

about 5 years ago

Would love to have an update on Joni James. Went through my teen years dancing to her music at a catholic high school. Is she well at this time?

about 5 years ago

have listened to joni james for about 50 yrs i loved her music and her she was sobeautiful thanks for all those good years joni still love you

about 5 years ago

Ms. James was taken to Adak, Alaska and Istanbul, Turkey along with my trusty 45rpm record player. She made my stint with the Navy a much more pleasant vacation. bill

over 5 years ago

THE FIRST TIME I EVER SEEN I FELL MADLY IN LOVE WITH HER I HAD A 45 RECORD PLAYER IN KOREA AND SHE WAS WITH ME EVERY MINUTE

over 5 years ago

I have been looking for one of joni's records "mama don't cry at my wedding" It alweays helped my mom when one of us girls got married. You don't even list it. Why?

over 5 years ago

I too heard Joni in 1952 while I was in the Naval Air force in Jax Fla She kept me going thru the KOrean war Bless her

almost 7 years ago

I discovered Joni James in 1952. I turned all my friends on to her. Iloved her beautiful voice so much!!! I also fell madly in love for the first time in my life that year. I'm now living in the Philippines and have just found out that Ms. James was very popular here also. I'm not surprised!!!

almost 7 years ago

I WENT TO THE PARAMOUNT THEATER IN 1952 TO SEE JONI JAMES.FELL ASLEEP DURRING THE MOVIE FOR I WAS AT BASIC TRAINING AT FOR DIX.WHEN SHE BEGAN SINGING I QUICKLY CAME TO.I LOST TRACK BECAUSE SHE RETIRED TO RAISE HER CHILDREN AND HER AILING HUSBAND,I HAD HEARD THAT SHE TOO HAD BEEN ILL.SURPRISED THAT SHE MADE A COMEBACK AND I DID NOT KNOW.WHAT A WOMEN, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL VOICE.

almost 7 years ago

In 1952-53 I attended U.S. Navy Radio School at NTC San Diego along with a fellow named Pete Babbo. Pete claimed Joni James was his sister, but none of us really believed him. Lying was considered an honorable art form back in those days. I read in bio's that Joni was the oldest of four children, but never have I spotted the names of those siblings. Can anybody help me out?