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Early life and career
Dragonette was born around 1900 in India. There is some uncertainty as to the exact date of birth; her birth records were reportedly destroyed in a fire and she was not forthcoming regarding her age. The Social Security Death Index cites 1900 as her year of birth. An orphan, she was raised in a Catholic convent school, Georgian Court College, in Lakewood, New Jersey, where she graduated in 1923, according to the list of the college's alumni.
She began singing on radio in 1926, and 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 from 1927-30 (Dunning, p. 543). She became the star of the Cities Service Concerts program, which she joined in 1930. By 1935, a listeners' poll voted her radio's most popular female vocalist. (Fraser, B15) 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 1939, she provided the singing voice of "Princess Glory" in the full color animated motion picture Gulliver's Travels.
In 1940 the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862–1947) 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. During World War II, Jessica Dragonette 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.
On June 28, 1947, she married Nicholas Meredith Turner (born October 28, 1915 - died March 8, 2010) at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. Both Jessica and Nicholas were devout Roman Catholics. The ceremony was performed by their friend, Cardinal Francis Spellman. The union, Dragonette's only marriage, was childless and lasted until her death.
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.
She died on March 18, 1980 and was survived by her husband and her elder sister, Rosalinda "Nadea" Loftus (Mrs. Joseph Loftus; 1892–1982). Nicholas Turner died in New York City on March 8, 2010. Jessica Dragonette is interred in a crypt in Our Lady Queen of Peace Mausoleum at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York. Dragonette's year of birth is not inscribed on the crypt, probably because of the uncertainty of this matter.
- Pro Pontifice et Ecclesia Cross, Pope Pius XII
- Voted best female singer of the country 1942 and 1943
- Social Security Death Index entry for Jessica Dragonette, ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com; accessed December 14, 2014.
- Dunning, John. Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- C. Gerald Fraser. "Jessica Dragonette, Singer, Dies; Popular Early Radio Performer". New York Times, March 20, 1980, p. B15.
- The Jessica Dragonette papers in the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (Dragonette's personal archive)
- "Sweetheart of the Air" fansite
- Faith is a Song, Dragonette's autobiography
- Jessica Dragonette at Find a Grave