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Jill Corey

 

Thank you to Albert J. Kopec for bringing Miss Jill Corey to my, and now your, attention.  To learn more about this wonderful and dynamic woman, a link is at the end of this article to Albert's website, which is authorized and approved by Miss Corey, herself.

Norma Jean Speranza began singing professionally at age 14 in 1949 - and then continuously for the next three and a half years - with the Johnny Murphy dance band in suburban Pittsburgh. A tape of her singing a capella made at a local radio station eventually came to the attention of Mitch Miller, at the time in charge of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records in New York. Upon hearing the recording, Miller immediately had Miss Speranza flown to New York for an audition. He also arranged for auditions with Arthur Godfrey and Dave Garroway, both of whom were seeking new singers for their respective television shows at the time. Those three auditions, all conducted on a single day during the late summer of 1953, quickly resulted in offers to Miss Speranza from both Godfrey and Garroway, as well as a seven-year contract with Columbia Records. Sensing the rise of a new star in the entertainment firmament, Mitch Miller also alerted LIFE magazine, whose editors promptly dispatched legendary photographer Gordon Parks to the young singerís tiny hometown of Avonmore, Pennsylvania to document her background and the preparations for the dramatic changes about to occur in her life.

Miss Speranza accepted the offer from Garroway, who was about to launch a new television show, and on October 2, 1953, exactly two days after her eighteenth birthday, she made her national television debut on NBC. It was also on this occasion that Dave Garroway re-christened Norma Jean Speranza Jill Corey, choosing for her a name from the Manhattan telephone directory. Less than two weeks later, on October 13th, Jill recorded her first two songs for Columbia Records. One of those, Robe Of Calvary, quickly reached a respectable position among the top songs of the day, and Jill would subsequently have four more hit recordings for Columbia. On November 9, 1953, the LIFE magazine cover story appeared on news stands with seven full pages devoted to the life of the emerging star.

The Dave Garroway Show was not renewed after one season, but by then the young singer was well on her way. She subsequently became a regular cast member on the Johnny Carson and Robert Q. Lewis television shows, and during the 1957-58 season Jill was named lead singer on Your Hit Parade. She made countless television guest appearances during the 1950ís, including six on the decadeís most popular variety program, the Ed Sullivan Show. In 1958, Jill starred in Columbia Pictureís Senior Prom, the same year she also became one of the youngest performers ever to headline at New Yorkís famed Copacabana. Also that same year, Columbia Records would release Sometimes Iím Happy, Sometimes Iím Blue, a most remarkable concept album conceived and programmed entirely by the young singer herself.

By the early 60ís Jill was increasingly devoting her talents to touring in regional theater in both musical and straight dramatic roles. However, at the end of 1961, Jill married Don Hoak, then third baseman with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and she eventually elected to withdraw from performing to follow her husbandís career in professional baseball. In 1965, the Hoaks had a daughter Clare, but tragically, in October 1969, Don Hoak died of cardiac arrest at age 41. As a consequence, and now with a young daughter to support as well, Jill was forced to resurrect her career, which initially meant resuming work in regional theater. However, some of the most glowing reviews she would ever receive came from an entirely new endeavor - her work in cabaret. On October 20, 1989, Jill would sell out the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall with her one-woman show, and in 1991, so prestigious an organization as the Puccini Foundation presented Jill with an award in recognition of her . . . voice and stage presence.

Today Jill lives quietly in retirement on the upper east side of Manhattan making only occasional benefit singing appearances. Jillís life and career are documented in great detail on a dedicated fan website, www.jillcorey.com.

 

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