What’s in a name? In the 1950’s, singer Joni James had a lot of success with one of those names that always seemed easy to confuse with a few others (at least for me). On the other hand, her real name – Giovanna (Joan) Carmella Babbo – might have been a little more distinctive, but it’s easy to see why she changed it.
A Chicago native, she was originally pointing toward dancing as a career, and her first professional job was as a chorus girl. After appearing for a time in various venues and shows, she also began filling in as a singer and discovered that it suited her just fine — and the audiences liked it too. She was soon spotted by a scout for a recording company and signed to her first deal, and her first record, “Why Don’t You Believe Me?”, became a breakout hit.
In the early part of the decade she was a very popular singing star, with a string of successful records that included “Is It Any Wonder,” “You’re My Everything,” and “Have You Heard.” She was a genuine pop star, not only via radio play and records sales, but also with TV guest shots on everything from Ed Sullivan to Person To Person. Meanwhile, she continued to churn out hits like “How Important Can It Be?” and “You Are My Love.”
Unfortunately, things began to turn for her. Her popularity began to fade a little over the next few years and her husband – musical director Anthony Acquaviva – began to suffer from failing health. She quit the business in 1964 to spend time with him and didn’t reappear for three decades, surfacing in the mid-1990’s for occasional tours and appearances. Although she appears to be kind of semi-active these days, she’s still around and even has her own website. Quite a lady.