Remembering Jill Corey©2005JCMarion


Jill Corey was born September of 1935 in Avonmore, Pennsylvania, a small coal mining town west of Pittsburgh. She was Norma Speranza the youngest of five children. She always loved music and singing, and early in her life she became known for her impressions of Carmen Miranda. Soon as a young teenager she developed her own style which was good enough for her to win a number of top spots at local talent shows. This led to a stint with a local band under the direction of Johnny Murphy, and also for a time her own program on local radio. A local tape recorded performance somehow made its way to Mitch Miller who was then head talent scout and arranger at Columbia Records and the one individual with the most power in the pop music world of the pre rock 'n roll fifties.

Miller sent for Speranza and had her in New York City in August of 1953 to set up recording dates, publicity photos and stories, and a possible television spot for the young singer. She appeared in a cover story in Life magazine and signed on to the "Dave Garroway At Large" show on television. Garroway was the one responsible from transforming Norma Speranza to Jill Corey, the anglicized name supposedly lifted by Garroway from a local phone directory. Soon the records followed, along with becoming a cast member of "Your Hit Parade" on TV followed by appearances with Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, and Robert Q. Lewis. Her first recording was a special edition Christmas performance in late 1953 followed by her first true recording for Columbia in November of 1953. "Robe Of Calvary" / "Minneapolis" on # 40123. "Robe" recorded with Percy Faith's Orchestra briefly charted at number 22 in the country. This was followed by two more recordings in late 1953 - "Cleo And Me-o" / "Do You Know What Lips Are For?" with the Four Lads on # 40177, and "Should I Tell?" / "A Good Night Kiss Is A Good Night's Work" on # 40188.

Corey made a number of recordings for Columbia during the next two years but none were truly successful. She did however have major night club appearances at the Copacabana, Latin Quarter, and Blue Angel. In October of 1956 Corey recorded "I Love My Baby" and "Egghead" on Columbia # 40794. "Baby" proved a decent seller becoming a top twenty hit during the first years of the rock 'n roll age. In the spring of 1957 "Love" and "Love Me To Pieces" on # 40955 became Corey's biggest record ever with "Pieces" getting into the top ten sellers in the country and lasting on the charts for more than two months. That same year Corey received exposure as a dramatic actress on television shows such as "Climax" and "Kraft Television Theater". In 1958 Jill Corey played the lead in a musical film entitled "Senior Prom" in the role of Gay Sheridan. The film also featured Louis Prima & Keely Smith (introducing their hit version of "That Old Black magic"), Sam Butera & The Witnesses, Bob Crosby, Ed Sullivan, Mitch Miller, Les Elgart, and Freddy Martin.

During the late fifties and into the sixties Corey continued to record for Columbia with little success. "Lonely Life" and "One Boy" on # 41641, and "Ten Gallon Hat" and "Stick 'Em Up Stuck Up" on # 41772 were two such examples. In 1961 Corey starred in the television program "Miami Undercover". That same year Jill made a career altering move when she married baseball star Don Hoak of the Pittsburgh Pirates. After her marriage she gave up her career to raise a family. She had a daughter named Clare and life for the singer seemed ideal when tragedy struck. Hoak died suddenly in 1969 and left Corey to raise her child alone. In due time she revived her career and presented her musical stylings at a number of venues across the country concentrating on musical theater and cabaret.

The one readily available CD of her music is Collectables "Sometimes I'm Happy Sometimes I'm Blue" originally recorded by Columbia in 1958 plus six bonus tracks (18 in all). The film "Senior Prom" is available on video as are radio appearances from the late fifties on tape. These shows include "Talk Of The Town", "Manhattan Melodies", "Let's Go With Music", and "The Jill Corey Show". Although not a top record seller during the nineteen fifties, Jill Corey remains a memorable part of that golden era of American pop music.

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