Corey in 1955.
|Birth name||Norma Jean Speranza|
September 30, 1935 |
Avonmore, Pennsylvania, United States
||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (September 2009)|
Born as (nee) Norma Jean Speranza in Avonmore, Pennsylvania, about forty miles east of Pittsburgh, a coal mining community, Corey was the youngest of five children. She began singing as an imitator of Carmen Miranda at family gatherings and on amateur shows in grade school (never winning any prizes, usually finishing last).
At the age of 13, she began to develop her own style. She won first prize at a talent contest sponsored by the Lions Club, entitling her to sing a song on a local radio station. This got her invited to have her own program. By the age of 14 she was working seven nights a week, earning $5 a night, with a local orchestra led by Johnny Murphy. By the age of 17 she was a local celebrity talent.
It was suggested she make a tape recording to demonstrate her singing skills to the outside show business world.[by whom?] She made the recording at the home of the only owner of a tape recorder in town, with trains going by in the background and no accompaniment. But the tape came to the attention of Mitch Miller, who headed the artists & repertory section at Columbia Records. He normally received over 100 record demos a week, and this one, with a 17-year-old girl and its train background, would not have been likely to gain his attention.
He telephoned her in Avonmore, and the next morning she flew to New York to be heard by Miller in a more normal studio setting. Miller had Life Magazine send over reporters and photographers, and had her audition with Arthur Godfrey and Dave Garroway. The Life photographers reenacted her signing a contract with Columbia, and all this happened in a single day, with her headed back to Avonmore that night.
Both Garroway and Godfrey called her, and it was her choice to pick one; she picked Garroway, who took the name Jill Corey out of a telephone book. Within six weeks the Life article, with a cover picture and seven pages, came out. Jill Corey became the youngest star ever at the Copacabana nightclub, and had numerous hit records.
She worked on television in New York with Garroway, Robert Q. Lewis, and Ed Sullivan. In 1956 she became a regular on Johnny Carson's CBS-network comedy-variety show from California. In addition, she had her own syndicated radio and television shows, and became the last featured singer on Your Hit Parade. In 1959 she starred in a feature-length musical film for Columbia Pictures, Senior Prom (co-produced by Moe Howard of The Three Stooges).
She gave up her career to marry Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Don Hoak, with whom she had a daughter, Clare. Hoak died of a heart attack after they had been married eight years. She then resumed her career in New York City.