60s Music

Jill Corey – “Love Me to Pieces”

Jill Corey
Photo of singer Jill Corey from an appearance on one of the early Johnny Carson shows. (Source: Wikipedia)

Introduction

Jill Corey is a American traditional pop singer. She had been singing since she was younger and was already participating in local singing contests. She signed a contract with Columbia when she was just 17 years old. Her career was highlighted with several appearances on television on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Johnny Carson Show and Your Hit Parade, as well as her own syndicated radio and TV program. In terms of her recording career, she achieved her biggest single “Love Me To Pieces” which just missed the Top 10 pop chart in 1957. In 1961 she gave up her active career to marry baseball star Don Hoak. When he died eight years later, she resumed her career.

Early life and rise to local stardom

Jill Corey was born Norman Jean Speranza in the coal mining town of Avonmore, Pennsylvania on September 30, 1935. She was the youngest of five children. As a child, she was influenced by Carmen Miranda, and in her own performances she did on every family gatherings she would imitate Miranda’s style.

But as she was growing older she gradually acquired her own style, starting at the age of 13. Developing her own style quickly paid off when she won at a local talent contest sponsored by Lions Club, which enabled her to sing at a local radio station.

Soon after her supposed to be a one-shot radio gig, she received an overwhelming public response. As a result, it enabled the fourteen-year-old Norma Jean to host her own seven-night-a-week radio show, ably accompanied by the Johnny Murphy Orchestra. Despite this, she still managed to do well in academically, eventually finishing ninth in her high school graduation.

 

From Norma Jean to Jill Corey

By 17, Norma Jean had become a local celebrity. A fan suggested to her that she make a demo tape recording to be sent to the bigger music industry players. Norma Jean eventually made the recording at the house of someone with the only tape recorder in town. She recorded her demo with no accompaniment, only “backed” by the noise of the trains passing by. Norma Jean’s demo eventually landed on the desk of Mitch Miller, the A&R man at Columbia Records. Miller usually received about 100 demo tapes a week, and it would have been unlikely that he’d take notice at this one recording made by a 17-year-old lass with the train noise on the background.

But as luck would have it, it was Norma Jean’s demo that caught Miller’s attention in the end. He phoned her and on the next morning, she flew to New York to audition for Miller, who had also sent Life magazine photographers and reporters. The Lifestaff also captured Norma Jean’s audition and formal signing with Columbia. It was like a dream come true for the teener in just a single day, and after that surreal event in New York she was back to her hometown in Avonmore later evening.

 

Recording, television and film career

Her first charting single was “I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me),” which peaked at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1957.

After a couple of minor hits with “Let It Be Me” and “Make Like a Bunny, Honey,” the follow-up single proved to be Corey’s biggest hit in her career — a Melvin Endsley composition called “Love Me to Pieces.” It peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957.

During the peak of her showbiz career, she naturally had several engagements and projects. She appeared on television many times with Garroway, Johnny Carson, Robert Q. Lewis and Ed Sullivan. Corey eventually hosted her own syndicated radio and television shows, and was notable for being one of the last performers on program Your Hit Parade. In 1959 she also appeared in the musical film Senior Prom.

Retirement, and return to show business

Corey was at the top of her game, so to speak, but she eventually left her flourishing career for marriage and family. After her husband, former baseball star Don Hoak, died of a sudden heart attack eight years later she resumed performing in New York City. She did mostly on-and-off Broadway projects. She’s still pretty much active up to present, having done recent works such as in the theater (Nellie at the Lambs Theater) and on the television (Excerpts from a Life, her own show).

 

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