Joni's Musical Journey

In the midst of one of the most remarkable renaissances in the history of the music field, Joni James is enjoying new acclaim, winning new fans and delighting longtime admirers with standing-room-only concert appearances and compact disc and tape reissues of her legendary record albums stunningly remastered in digital stereo sound under her personal supervision.

She also is recording new music in anticipation of presenting her adoring public with new listening surprises.

But surprises are no surprise with Joni—indeed, they have proven the hallmark of the Joni James saga. It’s hard to think of any other hit-record-making artist who suddenly disappeared from public view for two decades and just as suddenly reappeared to a loving worldwide reception. For Joni there has been no starting over, just moving ahead. And Joni’s record has swiftly moved beyond the nostalgic reappearance of a long-beloved musical friend to the reemergence of an artist with new musical interests and offerings—definitely a lady of the ‘90s even though she first gained international fame in the 1950s...and a lady eagerly anticipating the coming of the new century.

Joni’s reappearance has been marked by a series of fabulous sold out concerts in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and many spots between. She won standing ovation after standing ovation and outstanding reviews at The Town Hall and then Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center in the Big Apple. She packed the lovely Wellington Theatre in her hometown of Chicago with a unique one-woman show in two parts entitled "An Intimate Evening With Joni James." And she was the toast of L.A. with concerts at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theatre.

She has also completed outstanding engagements in San Diego and other places in California; Syracuse, N.Y.; and at several places in Florida, where she was inducted into the Big Band Hall of Fame (she has also been asked to contribute memorabilia to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Broadcast Museum in Chicago, and Television Hall Of Fame in New York City. She proved a star attraction of surpassing glamour at the elegant Trump’s Castle in Atlantic City, where she returned again a second time by popular public demand.

Joni’s concerts mix her trademark multimillion-selling hits with most-requested selections from her more than three dozen hit albums, new music from the cream of today’s composers and many surprises. She has performed with large orchestras with lavish string sections, big band-type orchestras glowing with brass and reeds and intimate jazz ensembles. She likes to explore new musical horizons and bring her audiences along as her guests and friends on a melodic adventure.

Recently her famous albums on compact disc, Joni has enjoyed tremendous success. Though she simply could have released her multimillion selling albums as they were first heard to great acclaim, Joni chose to take the more difficult and expensive route of going back into the recording studio and remastering the albums in state-of-the-art digital stereo sound.

In this endeavor she has worked with the best current sound engineers in the field, most often at the Capitol Tower Studios in Hollywood, noted as the home of the great singers Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. "We were surprised to find the richness of sound on the original master tapes that the medium of vinyl records could not fully capture," Joni said. "The sweep and detail of sound was there all of the time, but the technology for fully-realized reproduction was yet to come. For the first time, these recordings can now be heard as they sounded when they were first created."

The albums Joni has released so far have received a tremendous reception and are available both in leading music stores and by direct mail order.

Joni James became the "Queen of the Albums" during her nearly two decades as "Her M-G-eMinence" at M-G-M Records because she created, recorded and issued with consistent success four or more albums a year for many years. She created the themed album as we know it today with her first effort, "Let There Be Love" and proceeded to create an audience for International Music with Italian, French and Irish albums while expanding her album repertoire to include Country music, Folk music, Hawaiian music, Inspirational music, jazz and Dixieland.

Her "100 Stings and Joni" album series, recorded with a symphony-sized orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London several years before the Beatles were formed, became international million-sellers. She introduced the first "100 Strings and Joni" album with a concert at Caranegie Hall in New York City with the Symphony of the Air, Toscanini’s NBC radio orchestra, with 100 musicians and 40 choir singers on stage in the first full-length concert to be presented by a popular artist at that hallowed spot. That concert became the first live-in-stereo pop concert album, "Joni James At Carnegie Hall," which sold more than two million copies.

Joni also recorded the first stereo single in record history, the multimillion hit, "There Goes My Heart."

Joni pioneered one-woman shows at colleges, where big bands previously had only appeared regularly, and toured through Europe on behalf of the State Department for United States armed forces, eventually winning a USO award for her patriotic efforts.

All this from a tiny (barely 5 feet) Italian-American girl from Chicago who came from an impoverished childhood made even more difficult and tragic by the death of her father when she was only 4 years of age. An unusually serious child—"I felt I had to be sort of a second mama in our family because my mother had so many burdens and responsibilities"—Joni also proved an unusually serious student in school.

Well before she was a teenager, she fell in love with ballet through a Chicago Park District summer program; and with the unassuming determination which has marked her entire life, started taking afterschool and weekend jobs at bakeries and babysitting to pay for lessons.

When she graduated from high school as an honor student she turned down a college journalism scholarship to tour with a big dance show through Canada. Back in Chicago she landed a job in an important dance troupe but was sidelined by an emergency appendectomy. While recovering, she filled in for a singer friend at a roadhouse in nearby Northern Indiana, though she had never considered singing as a career, and to her amazement proved a hit.

Eventually dancing disappeared from her act entirely and she became a singer winning fans and outstanding reviews in and around Chicago. Doing a T.V. commercial she caught the eye and ear of recording executives entranced by what they described as her "unusual sound and style" ("what’s unusual about it?" Joni wondered, "I’ve always sounded this way.") That sound—tender, confidential, urgent—cut to the heart and soul of Joni’s songs, imparting the truths of a lyric. That style—phrasing ahead of and behind the beat, bending notes up and down, adding "grace" notes—reflected Joni’s childhood experience singing Gregorian chants in her Catholic school choir.

Soon thereafter her first national recording release was racing up the charts to the number one spot, where it stayed six weeks.

The song was the now world-known "Why Don’t You Believe Me" and it stayed on the best-seller charts an amazing six months. During her first year as a national recording star, Joni had an incredible 1- hit singles, twice landing four of them in the top 10 at the same time. The others were "Purple Shades," "Have You Heard," "Your Cheatin’ Heart" (one of the first country hits brought into the pop market, and intended for Joni by its legendary composer, Hank Williams), "Is It Any Wonder," "Almost Always," "My Love, My Love," "You’re Fooling Someone," "Nina-Non (A Christmas Lullaby)" and "You’re My Everything," a single pulled from her first album by public demand.

At the same time she was issuing hit after hit Joni was touring the United Stated and Canada tirelessly, appearing at the top theaters, supper clubs and dance halls, and on the premier television and radio variety shows. Her first y ear of touring, involving more than 250 engagements, established a personal appearance record that has yet to be topped.

Happily, Joni never wore out her welcome. Hit followed hit, and the best are listed in the accompanying "Joni’s Hit List." The string of hits continued internationally more than a dozen years.

Then, as suddenly as she had burst seemingly overnight into international stardom, Joni disappeared. She didn’t plan to "vanish," but her husband, career director and musical director Anthony Acquaviva had become seriously ill and Joni wanted to be home full-time to care for him and enjoy being mother to the two children they adopted from Italy, MichelAngelo and Angela Mia.

The Acquavivas became one of the most socially prominent families in Beverly Hills and a great favorite of the Jet Set, though they had never made any conscious effort in that direction. "I think it might have been because we were so basic and so family-oriented—we were seen as being different." Joni reflects. We loved to have company and it seems we became known for our Italian family-style dinner/dances. I would joyfully do all of the planning of every little detail and started cooking days ahead. I think I have a lot of my grandmother in me; she could get a party started anytime! We had a beautiful French Normandy-style home, which had a gorgeous terraced garden, pool and pool house and people were nice enough to say how much they felt at home with us. I think maybe it was a matter of living a rather normal life of home, family and church traditions in the midst of the fast track of an extraordinary community. The people we’d watched on the silver screen in awe as youngsters were now our neighbors. But they no longer were fairytale figures from a magic world of pretend. Thus the greatest stars in show business came through our front doors, but when they’re your neighbors and friends they are just your neighbors and friends. It’s a wonderful story I plan to tell soon."

Because of her disappearance from music-making and public appearances Joni became known as "The Garbo of Pop," a title, which still bemuses her because, she says, "I am the least mysterious person you could imagine and I certainly never wanted to be ‘left alone.’ My life has always been an open book and with me what you see and hear is what you get. I love people, and I never want to be left alone—except for special reasons, such as Tony’s health emergencies or my quiet work time planning new music, albums and performances, reading and studying."

After Tony’s tragic death, many friends in the entertainment field and countless fans who had remained dear friends over the years encouraged Joni to return to recording and performing, something which she hadn’t thought of in her many years as a wife, mother and hostess. "I was very content working in my garden and singing to my favorite Chinese weeping will tree," she says. "But now and then I did wonder if people remembered me because I certainly sure was missing them."

She decided to issue some of her dozens of hits in a mail-order record project Tony had been working on with some longtime associates in response to thousands of requests to make her recordings available again. With brilliant foresight, Tony and Joni had purchased all her master recordings from M-G-M Records in a unique multimillion dollar acquisition unheard of in the record business.

With that precious library of music now her solemn personal responsibility, Joni set out to please her longtime loyal fans and with luck entice new admirers with her lovingly remastered album reissues and with a few concert engagements. To her delight, she found her fans still waiting for her reappearance and, to her equal delight, she found young people writing her about her music and eagerly joining standing ovations at her concerts.

"This has been a real joy," she says, "to have so many wonderful, familiar faces joining in this new musical adventure and to be making so many new friends at the same time. I’ve been told I have preteens, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Yuppies as fans—well, whatever you call’em, God bless them. It has been so rewarding to return to making music and to experience such a fantastic reception. I could ever have imagined it."

Joni has been recording new music in New York City, Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles with her longtime collaborator Lew Douglas, who cowrote and conducted many of her major hits; with the premier jazz pianist Paul Smith; and with many other luminaries in the music field. Her new music includes soft rock, power ballads, country songs, inspirational music, jazz, blues and much else.

As for why she hasn’t been content just nostalgically reprising the familiar hits and doing the beautiful standards for which she has long been celebrated, "I love all kinds of music," Joni says, "and I’m always interested in what’s the newest and meeting the challenge of being a pioneer, staying ahead of the newest. And for doing it as an originator, not just someone doing what they have always done or even someone being current. I’m always thinking, ‘Next!’"

Then, after a moment of thought, she adds with the rueful smile which has graced many of her famous album covers, "It’s well-known, for better or worse I guess, that I bore easily; that never seems to change. But I guess listeners might too. So I’m always looking for progress, progress, progress—exciting and new, and more fun moving onto the new century. How wonderful!"

"Joni’s Musical Journey" copyright 1997 by Joni James and may not be excerpted or reproduced without permission of the copyright owner.