A little bit something first about Damita Jo
Damita Jo was an American actress, recording artist, comedian and lounge music singer. The Texas-born Damita Jo started her professional singing career when she peformed as a featured vocalist for Steve Gibson (whom she would later marry and divorce) and the Red Caps recordings during the 50s music era.
Her recordings met with some measure of success, most notably 1960’s “I’ll Save The Last Dance For You” and 1961’s “I’ll Be There,” both “answer songs” to Ben E. King’s originals “Save The Last Dance For Me” and “Stand By Me,” respectively. She also released other minor hits such as “Keep Your Hands Off Him” and “If You Go Away.” She collaborated with Ray Charles, Count Basie, Billy Eckstine and the Bobby Tucker Orchestra, and Lionel Hampton. She died on Christmas day in 1998, aged 68, after a long battle with respiratory illness. She remains one of the oldies music’s more obscure figures.
Damita Jo was born Damita Jo DeBlanc (or DuBlanc according to some sources) to Herbert DeBlanc and former Latrelle Plummer on August 5, 1930 in Austin, Texas. Her parents moved to Santa Barbara, California when DeBlanc was a child. This location became a fertile ground for her entertainment career.
DeBlanc would later be known simply as Damita Jo. She found a residency at a local club in neighboring Los Angeles, courtesy of disc jockey Joe Adams. Adams was later appointed as head of the R&B division of the Discovery record label. He signed Damita Jo as one of his first artists and produced her debut single “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” which was released in 1950.
However, the Discovery label soon folded and Damita Jo landed on another local record label Recorded in Hollywood. After her single on that label garnered little notice, Damita Jo joined Steve Gibson and the Red Caps, a Los Angeles-based jazz group. Damita Jo was utilized as a feature vocalist on few of the group’s songs, and they include her debut outing with them “I’m to Blame” and the 1952 hit single “I Went to Your Wedding.”
Steve Gibson also became Damita Jo’s husband, but their union proved to be short as the group’s fortunes ebbed. In 1959, she ended her personal and professional relationship with Gibson.
Damita Jo then moved to Mercury Records in the early 1960s, through the help of producer Shelby Singleton. Her debut single on Mercury, “It Takes a Little Loneliness” received little attention, but the follow-up “I’ll Save the Last Dance for You” finally put Damita Jo on the charts.
“I’ll Save the Last Dance for You,” written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, was made as a clever answer to the Drifters’ hit “Save the Last Dance For Me,” which was co-written and had been sung by Drifters member Ben E. King. First making an appearance on the charts in October 1960, it eventually netted a #22 position on the Billboard Hot 100, and #16 on the R&B singles chart.
After scoring a minor pop single with “Keep Your Hands Off Him,” Damita Jo achieved her most successful single “I’ll Be There,” which appeared on the charts in the summer of 1961. It was another “answer song,” this time to Ben E. King’s solo hit “Stand by Me.” As he had co-written “Stand by Me,” King also composed “I’ll Be There” along with Ollie Jones, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. “I’ll Be There” went to #12 on the pop chart, and #15 R&B.
Despite her hit single, Damita Jo never really broke into stardom, which remained elusive to her. However, her recordings were also becoming a hit in other countries, including Sweden, Norway, Puerto Rico and even Japan.
Her subsequent singles on Mercury were unsuccessful, and Damita Jo was eventually dropped from the label. She was signed to Epic in 1965. One of her Epic singles — a cover of Brel’s “If You Go Away” which managed to chalk up a minor position on the pop chart at #68, but it went to #10 on the adult contemporary. Damita Jo scored two more Top 40 easy listening hits, “Walk Away” and “Yellow Days,” in 1967.
Later life and career
With her recording career virtually over, Damita Jo then turned her focus to live performing for the lounge/supper-club circuit. She also became a comedienne, incorporating humor into her musical act. She toured with standup comedian Redd Foxx, and worked with Ray Charles, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton. In her remaining years, Damita Jo turned to performing exclusively gospel material.
Damita Jo, having been embattled with respiratory illness for many years, died on Christmas day in 1998 at the age of 68.