Norma Jean Speranza was born on Sept. 30, 1935, the youngest of five children. Her father, Bernard Speranza, worked in a coal mine in Kiski Township, Pa.; when Norma Jean became Jill, she bought it for him, renamed the Corey Mine. Her mother, Clara (Grant) Speranza, died when she was 4.
Her first performances, at school amateur hours, were not memorable: typically, enthusiastic Carmen Miranda imitations for which she earned last place. At 13, however, she won a talent contest sponsored by the Lion’s Club, the prize for which was a spot singing on local radio. The next year, she was hired by a local orchestra to sing standards, $5 a night, 7 days a week. For the demo she sent Mr. Miller, she sang a Tony Bennett song, “Since My Love Has Gone.”
She sang often at home, said Ms. Hoak, her only immediate survivor. Ms. Corey would sing her daughter to sleep — Judy Garland and Billie Holiday, mostly, and to such an extent that her daughter complained, “Don’t you know any happy songs?”
Ms. Corey’s voice remained distinctive, and she kept her flair. A few years ago, she fell in her home and called 911. When the fire department emergency team arrived, she received them with typical aplomb, a Scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
The firefighters balked at the cigarette.
As Ms. Hoak recalled: “Mom told them, ‘Oh come on! You boys know how to put out a fire, don’t you?’ ”