Jessica Dragonette

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Jessica Dragonette

Jessica Valentina Dragonette (February 14, 1900[1] – March 18, 1980) was a singer who became popular on American radio and was active in the World War II effort.

Early life[edit]

Born in Calcutta, India,[2][3] or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as Jessica Valentina Dragonetti, the youngest of three children of Italian-born parents, Luigi (Louis) and Rachele (née Baronio) Dragonetti, the Social Security Death Index cites Dragonette's year of birth as 1900, as does the 1900 United States census (June 1900) which gives the age of "Jessie Dragonet" as 4 months. By Christmas 1909, she was orphaned and raised in a Catholic convent school, and she graduated from Catholic Girls' High School in Philadelphia in 1919.[4] Dragonette was a 1923 graduate of Mt. St. Mary's College.[2] New York poet Ree Dragonette was her cousin.[5]

Dragonette's musical debut occurred at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.[6] During her college years, she studied with singing coach Estelle Liebling in New York City. Liebling steered her away from a career as a concert performer toward work on radio.[3]

Career[edit]

In 1924, Dragonette provided an angel's off-screen voice in Max Reinhardt's production of The Miracle,[3] and in the summer of 1924, she was a member of Andra Sherri's Revue, which was part of a midsummer festival at the Lyric Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana.[7] She began singing on radio as early as December 4, 1924, when she performed on WGBS in New York City.[8] In 1925, Dragonette became a member of the cast of the third edition of The Earl Carroll Vanities.[9] Another Broadway production in which Dragonette appeared was Grand Street Follies (1926).[10] She and contralto Celia Branz were known as the Junior Prima Donnas in that production.[11] Also in 1925, that duo sang on WLIT radio in Philadelphia[12] and headlined the stage show that accompanied a film at the Stanley Theater, also in Philadelphia.[13] Dragonette continued performing on radio as a member of the cast of Roxy and His Gang when the program resumed weekly broadcasts on October 30, 1925, over WEAF in New York City[14] and WEEI in Boston.[15] In 1926, she began performing on WEAF in the Musical Comedy Hour, and in 1927[16] she started singing in operettas there as "Vivian, 'The Coca-Cola Girl'"[17] on The Coca-Cola Hour, which debuted in 1927 as Coca-Cola's first venture into advertising on radio.[18]

During her 22-year radio career she helped to popularize operettas and semi-classical music. An admiring press dubbed her the "Princess of Song", a nickname she later would use to publicize concert events. She was the star of the Philco Hour on NBC in 1927-28.[19] She became the star of the Cities Service Concerts program, which she joined in 1930. In September 1935, a national poll conducted by Radio Guide magazine named Dragonette the most popular radio performer of the year.[20](Fraser, B15) Radio Guide also awarded her its highest honor, the Radio Guide Medal of Merit, in 1936. The article about the award noted that to Dragonette a "microphone represents the millions who have heard her and who have become her friends. It is to that audience, not those who sit before her in a studio, that she pays the homage of her song."[21] Dragonette's popularity on radio translated into crowds at personal appearances, including 15,000 in an auditorium in Minneapolis while snow fell and 150,000 in Chicago's Grant Park.[16]

When the Palmolive Beauty Box Theater moved from NBC radio to CBS in 1936, Dragonette became the host of the show and performed in some episodes.[22] Dragonette sang in a segment of the film The Big Broadcast of 1936, on the condition that she have authority over the final cut on her performance. In the end she chose to have her part removed. In 1934, she provided the voice of Persephone in the Silly Symphony cartoon The Goddess of Spring. And in 1939, she provided the voice of Princess Glory in the full color animated motion picture Gulliver's Travels.

In 1940, Swiss-American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury painted a portrait of her that now hangs at her alma mater, now known as Georgian Court University. Müller-Ury became a close friend of the singer and painted her portrait several times—the last of the portraits, painted in 1946, depicts her wearing a gold fez. He also painted a portrait of the singer's sister, Nadea, in 1942.[citation needed] Dragonette joined the cast of Saturday Night Serenade on CBS radio in 1941.[19]: 598  During World War II, she performed for charities benefiting the U.S. armed services, earning her an honorary commission as a colonel. She performed frequently for the troops and sold a record number of war bonds. She once remarked that "The Star-Spangled Banner" never had more meaning for her than it did during the war. In addition to English, Jessica impeccably sang in German, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian. She was so good, she once fooled a diplomat into thinking Russian was her native tongue. Never one to use printed music, it’s estimated she memorized over 75 operas and more than 500 songs.

The crypt of Jessica Dragonette Turner. Note that her year of birth is missing on the inscription.

In the mid-1950s, David Gottlieb, the president of the leading pinball game manufacturer, hired Dragonette to appear at coin machine functions promoting a pinball game called Dragonette. However, the game had nothing to do with Dragonette. It was spoof of a leading TV show of the period, Dragnet.

Marriage[edit]

On June 28, 1947, she married Nicholas Meredith Turner at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York; both were devout Roman Catholics.[citation needed] The ceremony was performed by Cardinal Francis Spellman. The union, Dragonette's only marriage, was childless but happy, and lasted until her death.[23]

Death[edit]

Dragonette died in New York Hospital on March 18, 1980, from a heart attack.[2]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1935 The Big Broadcast of 1936 Jessican Dragonette Uncredited
1939 Gulliver's Travels Princess Glory Singing Voice, (final film role)

Book[edit]

Dragonette's autobiography, Faith Is a Song, was published in 1967[2] by David McKay Company.[24]

Honors[edit]

  • Pro Pontifice et Ecclesia Cross, Pope Pius XII[25]
  • Voted best female singer of the country 1942 and 1943

Mural[edit]

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum holds "The World of Radio, 1934", a mural that features Dragonette "at the center of the 'story of radio's progress'".[26] More than eight feet high and 16 feet wide, the mural shows Dragonette on top of a globe in a cityscape, surrounded by images that represent people and accomplishments related to the advancement of radio.[26] Commissioned by Dragonette's sister, Nadea Dragonette Loftus, and completed in 1934 by Arthur Gordon Smith, the mural was displayed in the singer's apartment.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Social Security Death Index entry for Jessica Dragonette, ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com; accessed December 14, 2014.(subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d Fraser, C. Gerald (March 20, 1980). "Jessica Dragonette, Singer, Dies; Popular Early-Radio Performer". The New York Times. p. B 15. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d "Jessica Dragonette". Cooper Hewitt. Archived from the original on May 9, 2021. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  4. ^ "Catholic Girls' High graduates big class". Evening Public Ledger. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. June 14, 1919. p. 9. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ Melhem, D. H. (1992). "Ree Dragonette: A Brief Memoir". The American Voice. 29: 32–35.
  6. ^ "Large Audience at Mt. St. Mary's Musical". The Courier-News. New Jersey, Bridgewater. March 27, 1922. p. 4. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  7. ^ "Notes of the Stage". The Indianapolis News. July 30, 1924. p. 7. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ "WGBS, New York-316". The News-Journal. Pennsylvania, Lancaster. December 4, 1924. p. 6. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ Kayton, Alvin J. (June 15, 1925). "The Theatre on Broadway". The Yonkers Herald. p. 5. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "Jessica Dragonette". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on May 9, 2021. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  11. ^ "They May Be Small, But They Can Sing". The Philadelphia Inquirer. August 30, 1925. p. 88. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "WLIT -- Lit Bros. -- 395 Meters". The Evening Journal. Delaware, Wilmington. August 31, 1925. p. 3. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ "'Shore Leave' is Stanley feature". The Philadelphia Inquirer. September 1, 1925. p. 8. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  14. ^ "Roxy Back Again". The Ridgewood Herald. New Jersey, Ridgewood. October 29, 1925. p. 23. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ "Roxy and his gang back on air again". The Boston Globe. October 27, 1925. p. 10. Retrieved May 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ a b Thomas, Lorraine (August 18, 1939). "Why does radio neglect Jessica?" (PDF). Radio Guide. 8 (44): 10, 40.
  17. ^ Palmer, Alex (March 3, 2017). "The Romance and Promise of 20th-Century Radio Is Captured in This Mural". Smithsonian Magazine. Archived from the original on May 10, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  18. ^ "Refreshing the World: Coca-Cola and Radio" (PDF). Arbitron. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 24, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  19. ^ a b Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 545. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3.
  20. ^ "'Radio Queen' is crowned". The New York Times. September 26, 1935. p. 19. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  21. ^ Mitchell, Curtis (October 17, 1936). "Medal of Merit Awarded to Jessica Dragonette" (PDF). Radio Guide. V (52): 2. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  22. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.
  23. ^ "Sweetheart of the Air" fansite, jessicadragonette.com; accessed July 30, 2016.
  24. ^ "With a Song In Her Heart: Faith Is a Song". The New York Times. January 27, 1952. p. BR 23. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  25. ^ Salvatore Basile (2010). Fifth Avenue Famous: The Extraordinary Story of Music at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Fordham University Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-8232-3187-4.
  26. ^ a b "Mural, The World of Radio, 1934". Cooper Hewitt. Archived from the original on May 9, 2021. Retrieved May 9, 2021.

External links[edit]