The Story and Music of Joni James

Introduction to Joni James

Joni James is a 50s music era traditional pop singer known for her crystal-clear sweet vocals.  Born into an Italian family as Giovanna Carmella Babbo, James studied drama and ballet in her teens.  In 1952 she was signed by MGM.  Her first single, “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” was a hit, selling over a million copies, and she became a star overnight.  James is also known as an interpreter of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart”.  James extended her popularity on the other side of the globe, particularly in the Philippines, Singapore and Japan.  James’ career began to wane when she entered married life in 1956, and in 1964 she virtually retired from the public eye.  James has been widowed twice.  During the 1990s she reappeared in public by touring and performing after the death of her first husband and manager, musical director Tony Acquaviva.  In 2000 she released the album Latest and Greatest, a compilation of her best hits as well as other tracks. As an honor to her achievements in the music industry, James received a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is now located at 6828 Hollywood Boulevard.

Career summary of Joni James

Giovanna Carmella Babbo professionally known as Joni James is an American traditional pop singer. James was born on September 22, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois where she was raised, together with her five siblings, by her widowed mother. She is of Italian lineage. While growing up, she took drama and ballet lessons and later graduated from Bowen High School. Around that time, she also worked as a chorus girl in the Edgewater Beach Hotel and decided to enter a singing career.

James entering the music business

James was discovered by the bosses of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in a television commercial and was offered a record deal in 1952. In that same year, she had already achieved her first big hit, releasing her debut “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” It scored at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over two million copies. The following year was filled with success because most of her singles she released did considerably well on the pop charts: “Have You Heard” (#4), “Wishing Run” (#17) and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (#2), “Amost, Always” (#9) and “My Love, My Love” (#8). In 1955, she scored a couple of hit songs with “How Important Can It Be?” and “You Are My Love.” Both registered on the national charts, the former was at #2 while the latter was at #6.

During in the mid 1950’s, James was also making her name known across the Asia-Pacific region. In the Philippines, she achieved a big hit with the song “In Despair,” written by Filipino composer Salvador Asuncion. In 1957, James was able to perform at the now-defunct EM Club in Manila.

Throughout James’ career, she has issued more than 25 albums and sold over 100 million copies all of each was released by MGM imprint. James recorded five albums at London’s Abbey Road Studios. She was the first American to record there.

James’ married life and later career

In 1956, James entered married life with Tony Acquaviva, a composer-conductor. However,  Acquaviva was ailing in 1964 and she had to set aside making music for years to take care of his husband. Acquaviva died in 1986. Later on that year, she met Bernard Adolph Schriever, a retired Air Force General. Despite the twenty-year gap, the two got married in 1997. In 2005 Schriever died due to pneumonia.

In the mid-1990’s, James returned to business and began embarking on a tour. In 2000, she released the album Latest and Greatest. After Acquaviva’s death, she performed at New York’s Town Hall and Avery Fisher Hall and in October 2001, she performed with the Count Basie orchestra at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. James was also included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.