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Early life and career
Born in 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, Georgian Court College, in Lakewood, New Jersey, where she graduated in 1923, according to the list of the college's alumni. New York poet Ree Dragonette (1918-1979) was her cousin.
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 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 (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, 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.
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.
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 were devout Roman Catholics. The ceremony was performed by Cardinal Francis Spellman. The union, Dragonette's only marriage, was childless but happy, and lasted until her death.
Jessica Dragonette Turner died on March 18, 1980 from a fatal heart attack not long after being released from the hospital after suffering an asthma attack. Her immediate survivors were her husband and a younger sister (Mrs. Nadea Loftus). Her widower died in New York City on March 8, 2010.
- 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.(subscription required)
- Melhem, D. H. (1992). "Ree Dragonette: A Brief Memoir". The American Voice. 29: 32–35.
- "Sweetheart of the Air" fansite, jessicadragonette.com; accessed July 30, 2016.
- C. Gerald Fraser. "Jessica Dragonette, Singer, Dies; Popular Early Radio Performer". The New York Times, March 20, 1980, p. B15.
- 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.
- Dunning, John. Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- The Jessica Dragonette papers in the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (Dragonette's personal archive)
- Finding aid to Jessica Dragonette papers at Columbia University. Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
- Faith is a Song, Jessica Dragonette's autobiography
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