Pop songstress Joni James was born Giovanna Carmella Babbo in Chicago on September 22, 1930. After studying drama and ballet throughout her adolescence, she joined a local dance troupe on a tour of Canada upon graduating high school, later working as a chorus girl at the Windy City's Edgewater Beach Hotel. A fill-in gig at an Indiana roadhouse convinced James to pursue a career as a singer, and while appearing in a TV commercial she was spotted by executives at MGM, signing to the label in 1952. Her single "Why Don't You Believe Me" sold over a million copies, topping the U.S. charts for six weeks and falling just shy of the Top Ten in Britain.
An overnight sensation, James enjoyed an incredible run of hits over the next year, among them the double-sided "Have You Heard"/"Wishing Ring," "Purple Shades," Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Is It Any Wonder," "Almost Always," "My Love, My Love," "You're Fooling Someone," "Nina-Non (A Christmas Lullaby)," and "You're My Everything." By 1954, however, James' early success seemed to dissipate entirely, and after returning to the Top Ten twice the following year with "How Important Can It Be?" and "You Are My Love" she never reached to the upper rungs of the charts again, although she continued cracking the Top 100 for the remainder of the decade. In 1964, she retired from music to tend to her ailing husband, musical director Anthony Acquaviva, and spent the next three decades essentially removed from the public eye; finally, during the mid-'90s she returned to touring while also supervising the re-release of her classic MGM recordings. ~ Jason Ankeny