Little Norma Jean Speranza, born in the small coal-mining town of Avonmore, PA, got her start doing a Carmen Miranda imitations at family gatherings and grade-school talent shows. If she never won the prize, she had a lot of fun. By the age of 13 she began to discover her own style. First prize in the Lion's Club talent show was a chance to perform on the local radio station. The station manager must have been impressed, because Norma Jean was invited to sing on her own program- she began earning $5 a night singing with the local orchestra led by Johnny Murphy. One of her admirers encouraged her to make a tape recording that could be sent to the "Show Biz Big Shots". She went to the home of the man who owned the only tape recorder in town, and with trains passing in the background and no other accompaniment, made her tape.
What follows is one of those stories that should only happen in the movies.
Somehow Mitch Miller, head of Artist's and Repertory at Columbia Records, heard the tape. At this time Miller must have been receiving more demo-tapes each week than he could possibly listen to, but some how he found time to listen to a 17 year old girl with trains passing in the background. What is no surprise to her later fans, Miller liked what he heard.
The phone in little Avondale rang from New York, and the next morning Norma Jean was on the 8:00am plane from Pittsburgh to New York. After hearing her in a studio setting, Miller set up auditions with Arthur Godfrey and Dave Garroway, then called the Life Magazine photographers. The Life Photographers had her reenact signing her Contract with Columbia, and that evening she was back in her bed in Avondale, probably wondering if the whole thing had been a dream.
She became a protégé of Garroway's, who helped her choose the stage name Jill Corey out of the phone book. She became the youngest singer to appear at the Copa Cabana nightclub and worked with Garroway on TV. She became a regular on Johhny Carson's CBS comedy/variety show from California in 1956. She had a number of hit recordings as well as a starring in a few syndicated radio programs. Jill Corey was the last singer on Your Hit Parade.
Jill retired from show business when she married Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Don Hoak. When Hoak passed away after eight years of marriage, she returned to performing in New York.
This small collection of shows, Jill Corey Sings, was a syndicated plug for the National Guard.