This lively singer is mostly known by the jazz audience for the part he played in the revue of Lionel Hampton. He was part of the vibraphonist and drummer's sometimes outrageous and always hard-swinging stage group beginning in 1957, and the singer continued touring and recording with Hampton until well into the mid-'60s. Prior to that he had been a solo performer, the prodigy child of a Macon, GA, couple who were both musicians. Noticing that young Cornelius Jones seemed to have natural talent, they pushed this aspect of his education and enrolled him at the difficult Cosmopolitan School of Music in Cincinnati. Had either parent been able to receive a vision of what was to come, as in the on-the-road revelry of the Hampton band, they might not have bothered. Nonetheless, Jones took to performing, cutting his first records under his own name in 1951. With a first name such as "Cornelius," the desire to take on a replacement nickname is understandable; where the connection with the mystic Italian boy puppet comes in has never been explained, but usually comes down to one or two things such as a big nose and a proclivity to lie.
By the time Todd Drake cut the regional hit featuring Jones, entitled "Your Mouth's Got a Hole in It," in 1953, it was hard to say who was pulling whose strings. Pinocchio James dangled on the freelance strings for the next few years before finally joining up with Hampton. Like many of the characters in this band, he traded the relative security of this job for a shot at making a bigger name for himself. Rhythm & blues weirdo Swamp Dogg replaced James during one hiatus from the job that came to be known as "regular vocalist." Anyone who has ever heard Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra perform "Georgia on My Mind" with James will testify there's nothing regular about it at all. ~ Eugene Chadbourne