The Andrews Sisters were an American close harmony singing group of the swing and boogie-woogie eras. The group consisted of three sisters:contralto LaVerne Sophia (July 6, 1911 – May 8, 1967), soprano Maxine Angelyn "Maxene" (January 3, 1916 – October 21, 1995), and mezzo-soprano Patricia Marie "Patty" (February 16, 1918 – January 30, 2013). Throughout their long career, the sisters sold well over 75 million records (the last official count released by MCA Records in the mid-1970s). Their 1941 hit "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" can be considered an early example of rhythm and blues or jump blues.
The Andrews Sisters' harmonies and songs are still influential today, and have been covered by entertainers such as Bette Midler, The Puppini Sisters, Christina Aguilera, and others. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. Writing for Bloomberg, Mark Schoifet said the sisters became the most popular female vocal group of the first half of the 20th century. They are still acclaimed widely today for their famous close harmonies.
Patty, the youngest and the lead singer of the group, was only seven when the group was formed, and just 12 when they won first prize at a talent contest at the local Orpheum Theatre inMinneapolis, where LaVerne played piano accompaniment for the silent film showings in exchange for free dancing lessons for herself and her sisters. Following the collapse of their father's Minneapolis restaurant, the sisters went on the road to support the family. Once the sisters found fame and settled in California, their parents lived with them in a Brentwood estate in Los Angeles until their deaths.
They started their career as imitators of an earlier successful singing group, the Boswell Sisters. After singing with various dance bands and touring in vaudeville with the likes of Ted Mack, Leon Belasco, and comic bandleader Larry Rich, they first came to national attention with their recordings and radio broadcasts in 1937, most notably via their major Decca record hit, Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (translation: "To Me, You Are Beautiful"), originally a Yiddish tune, the lyrics of which Sammy Cahn had translated to English and which the girls harmonized to perfection. They followed this success with a string of best-selling records over the next two years and they became a household name by the 1940s.
World War II
During World War II they entertained the Allied forces extensively in America, Africa and Italy, visiting Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases, war zones, hospitals, and munitions factories. They encouraged U.S. citizens to purchase war bonds with their rendition of Irving Berlin's song Any Bonds Today?. They also helped actress Bette Davis and actor John Garfield found California's famous Hollywood Canteen, a welcome retreat for servicemen where the trio often performed, volunteering their personal time to sing and dance for the soldiers, sailors andMarines (they did the same at New York City's Stage Door Canteen during the war). While touring, they often treated three random servicemen to dinner when they were dining out. They recorded a series of Victory Discs (V-Discs) for distribution to Allied fighting forces only, again volunteering their time for studio sessions for the Music Branch, Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces, and they were dubbed the "Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service" for their many appearances on shows like "Command Performance", "Mail Call", and "G.I. Journal."
The Andrews Sisters singing 'Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)' in the 1942 film 'Private Buckaroo'.
The Andrews Sisters broke up in 1951 when Patty joined another group, with her husband acting as her agent. Patty traces the breakup to the deaths of their parents: "We had been together nearly all our lives," Patty explained in 1971. "Then in one year our dream world ended. Our mother died (in 1948) and then our father (in 1949). All three of us were upset, and we were at each other's throats all the time."
When Maxene and LaVerne learned of Patty's decision from newspaper gossip columns rather than from their own sister, it caused a bitter two-year separation, especially when Patty decided to worsen matters by suing LaVerne for a larger share of their parents' estate. Maxene and LaVerne tried to continue the act as a duo and met with good press during a 10-day tour of Australia, but a reported suicide attempt by Maxene in December 1954put a halt to any further tours (Maxene spent a short time in the hospital after swallowing 18 sleeping pills, an occurrence that LaVerne told reporters was an accident). The sisters' private relationship was often troubled and Patty blamed it on Maxene: "Ever since I was born, Maxene has been a problem," she said.
The trio reunited in 1956. They signed a new recording contract with Capitol Records (for whom Patty had become a featured soloist) and released a dozen singles through 1959, some rock-and-roll flavored and not very well received, and three hi-fi albums, including a vibrant LP of songs from the dancing 1920s with Billy May's orchestra. In 1962, they signed with Dot Records and recorded a series of stereo albums until 1964, both re-recordings of earlier hits, as well as new material, including "I Left My Heart In San Francisco", "Still", "The End of the World", "Puff the Magic Dragon", "Sailor", "Satin Doll", the theme from Come September, and the theme from A Man and a Woman. They toured extensively during the 1960s, favoring top nightclubs in Las Vegas, Nevada, California, and London, England.
Eldest sister LaVerne died of cancer in 1967 after a year-long bout with the illness, during which she was replaced by singer Joyce DeYoung. LaVerne had founded the original group, and often acted as the peacemaker among the three during the sisters' lives, more often siding with her parents, to whom the girls were extremely devoted, than with either of her sisters. Their last appearance together as a trio was on The Dean Martin Show on September 27, 1966.
After LaVerne died, Maxene and Patty continued to perform as a duo until 1968, when Maxene announced she would become the Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College, teaching acting, drama and speech at a Lake Tahoe college and worked with troubled teens, and Patty was once again eager to be a soloist.
Patty and Maxine's careers experienced a resurgence when Bette Midler recorded her own version of their song "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in 1973. The next year, the pair debuted on Broadwayin the Sherman Brothers' nostalgic World War II musical: Over Here! which premiered at the Shubert Theatre to rave reviews. This was a follow-up to Patty's success in "Victory Canteen", a 1971California revue. Over Here! starred Maxene and Patty (with Janie Sell filling in for LaVerne and winning a Tony Award for her performance) and was written with both sisters in mind for the leads. It launched the careers of many now notable theater, film, and television icons including John Travolta, Marilu Henner, Treat Williams and Ann Reinking. It was the last major hurrah for the sisters and was cut short due to a lawsuit initiated by Patty's husband against the show's producers, squashing an extensively scheduled road tour.
Patty immediately distanced herself from Maxene, who claimed until her death that she was not aware of Patty's motives regarding the separation. She appealed to Patty for a reunion, personally if not professionally, both in public and in private, but to no avail. Maxene suffered a serious heart attack while performing in Illinois in 1982 and underwent quadruple bypass surgery, from which she successfully recovered. Patty visited her sister while she was hospitalized. Now sometimes appearing as "Patti" (but still signing autographs as "Patty") she re-emerged in the late 1970s as a regular panelist on The Gong Show. Maxene had a successful comeback as a cabaret soloist in 1979 and toured worldwide for the next 15 years, recording a solo album in 1985 entitled "Maxene: An Andrews Sister" for Bainbridge Records. Patty started her own solo act in 1981, but did not receive the critical acclaim her sister had for her performances, even though it was Patty who was considered to be the "star" of the group for years. The critics' major complaint was that Patty's show concentrated too much on Andrews Sisters material, which did not allow Patty's own talents as a very expressive and bluesy vocalist to shine through.
The two sisters did reunite, albeit briefly, on October 1, 1987, when they received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, even singing a few bars of "Beer Barrel Polka" for the Entertainment Tonightcameras. An earthquake shook the area that very morning and the ceremony was nearly cancelled, which caused Patty to joke, "Some people said that earthquake this morning was LaVerne because she couldn't be here, but really it was just Maxene and me on the telephone." Besides this, and a few brief private encounters, they remained somewhat estranged for the last few years.
Shortly after her Off-Broadway debut in New York City in a show called Swingtime Canteen, Maxene suffered another heart attack and died at Cape Cod Hospital on October 21, 1995, making Patty the last surviving Andrews Sister. Not long before she died, Maxene told music historian William Ruhlmann, "I have nothing to regret. We got on the carousel and we each got the ring and I was satisfied with that. There's nothing I would do to change things if I could...Yes, I would. I wish I had the ability and the power to bridge the gap between my relationship with my sister, Patty." Upon hearing the news of her sister's death, Patty became very distraught. As her husband Wally went to her, he fell on a flight of stairs and broke both wrists. Patty did not attend her sister's memorial services in New York, nor in California. Said Bob Hope of Maxene's passing, "She was more than part of The Andrews Sisters, much more than a singer. She was a warm and wonderful lady who shared her talent and wisdom with others."
Retirement and deaths
Instrumental to the sisters' success over the years were their parents, Olga and Peter; their orchestra leader and musical arranger, Vic Schoen (1916–2000); music publishing giant Lou Levy, who died only days after Maxene, and was their manager from 1937–51 and was also Maxene's husband from 1941–49; and Jack and David Kapp, who founded Decca Records. Maxene was the mother of two adopted children, Peter and Aleda Ann.
LaVerne married Lou Rogers, a trumpet player in Vic Schoen's band, in 1948, and remained with him until her death (he died in 1995, five days after Maxene's death and five days before Levy's). Patty Andrews married agent Marty Melcher in 1947 and left him in 1949, when he pursued a romantic relationship with Doris Day. She then married Walter Weschler, the trio's pianist, in 1951. Patty Andrews died of natural causes at her home in Northridge, California on January 30, 2013, just 17 days before her 95th birthday. Walter Wechsler, her husband of 60 years, died on August 28, 2010, at the age of 88. Patty and Walter were parents to foster daughter Pam Dubois. The sisters were interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, close to their parents.
Until the advent of the Supremes, the sisters were the most imitated of all female singing groups and influenced many artists, including Mel Tormé, Les Paul and Mary Ford, The Four Freshmen,The McGuire Sisters, The Manhattan Dolls, The Lennon Sisters, The Pointer Sisters, The Manhattan Transfer, The Puppini Sisters, Barry Manilow, and Bette Midler. Even Elvis Presley was a fan. Most of the Andrews Sisters' music has been restored and released in compact disc form, yet over 300 of their original Decca recordings, a good portion of which was hit material, has yet to be released by MCA/Decca in over 50 years. Many of these Decca recordings have been used in such television shows and Hollywood movies as Homefront, ER, The Brink's Job, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Swing Shift, Raggedy Man, Summer of '42, Slaughterhouse-Five, Maria's Lovers, Harlem Nights, In Dreams, Murder in the First, L.A. Confidential, American Horror Story, Just Shoot Me, Gilmore Girls, Mama's Family, War and Remembrance, Jakob the Liar, Lolita, The Polar Express, The Chronicles of Narnia, Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front,Memoirs of a Geisha, and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!). Comical references to the trio in television sitcoms can be found as early as I Love Lucy and as recently asEverybody Loves Raymond. In 2007, their version of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" was included in the game BioShock, a first-person shooter that takes place in an alternate history 1960, and later in 2008, their song "Civilization" (with Danny Kaye) was included in the Atomic Age-inspired video game Fallout 3. The 2010 video game Mafia II features numerous Andrews Sisters songs, with 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy', 'Strip Polka' and 'Rum And Coca-Cola'. The 2011 video game L.A. Noire features the song Pistol Packin' Mama, where the sisters perform a duet with Bing Crosby.
Christina Aguilera used the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to inspire her song "Candyman" (released as a single in 2007) from her hit album Back to Basics. The song was co-written by Linda Perry. The London based trio the Puppini Sisters uses their style harmonies on several Andrews Sisters and other hits of the 1940s and 1950s as well as later rock and discohits. The trio has said their name is a tribute to The Andrews Sisters. The Manhattan Dolls, a New York City-based touring group, performs both the popular tunes sung by the Andrews Sisters and some of the more obscure tunes such as "Well Alright" and "South American Way" as well.
In 2008 and 2009, the BBC produced The Andrews Sisters: Queens of the Music Machines, a one-hour documentary on the history of the Andrews Sisters from their upbringing to the present. The American premier of the show was June 21, 2009, in their birthplace of Mound, Minnesota. In 2008, Mound dedicated "The Andrews Sisters Trail". The sisters spent summers in Mound with their uncles Pete and Ed Solie, who had a grocery store there. Maxene Andrews always said that the summers in Mound created a major sense of "normalcy" and "a wonderful childhood" in a life that otherwise centered on the sisters' careers. The Westonka Historical Society has a large collection of Andrews Sisters memorabilia.
When the sisters burst upon the music scene in the late 1930s, they shook a very solid musical foundation: producing a slick harmonic blend by singing at the top of their lungs while trying - successfully - to emulate the blare of three harmonizing trumpets, with a full big band racing behind them. Some bandleaders of the day, such as Artie Shaw and his musicians, resented them for taking the focus away from the band and emphasizing the vocals instead. They were in as high demand as the big bandleaders themselves, many of whom did not want to share the spotlight and play back-up to a girl trio.
Nevertheless, they found instant appeal with teenagers and young adults who were engrossed in the swing and jazz idioms, especially when they performed with nearly all of the major big bands, including those led by Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Joe Venuti, Freddie Slack, Eddie Heywood, Bob Crosby (Bing's brother), Desi Arnaz, Guy Lombardo, Les Brown, Bunny Berigan, Xavier Cugat, Paul Whiteman, Ted Lewis, Nelson Riddle and mood-master Gordon Jenkins, whose orchestra and chorus accompanied them on such successful soft and melancholy renditions as "I Can Dream, Can't I?" (which shot to number one on Billboard and remained in the Top 10 for 25 weeks), "I Wanna Be Loved", "There Will Never Be Another You", and the inspirational "The Three Bells" (the first recorded English version of the French composition), along with several solo recordings with Patty, including a cover version of Nat King Cole's "Too Young", "It Never Entered My Mind", "If You Go", and "That's How A Love Song Is Born".
"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" can be considered an early recording of rhythm and blues or jump blues.
While the sisters specialized in swing, boogie-woogie, and novelty hits with their trademark lightning-quick vocal syncopations, they also produced major hits in jazz, ballads, folk, country-western, seasonal, and religious titles, being the first Decca artists to record an album of gospel standards in 1950. Their versatility allowed them to pair with many different artists in the recording studios, producing Top 10 hits with the likes of Bing Crosby (the only recording artist of the 1940s to sell more records than The Andrews Sisters), Danny Kaye, Dick Haymes, Carmen Miranda,Al Jolson, Ray McKinley, Burl Ives, Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Dan Dailey, Alfred Apaka, and Les Paul. In personal appearances, on radio and on television, they sang with everyone from Rudy Vallee, Judy Garland and Nat "King" Cole to Jimmie Rodgers, Andy Williams, and The Supremes. Some obvious 1930's song styles can be heard with early contemporary harmonizers of their day with the Boswell Sisters, and the Three X Sisters.
Maxene, Patty, and LaVerne appeared in 17 Hollywood films. Their first picture, Argentine Nights, paired them with another enthusiastic trio, the Ritz Brothers. Universal Pictures, always budget-conscious, refused to hire a choreographer, so the Ritzes taught the sisters some eccentric steps. Thus, in Argentine Nights and the sisters' next film, Buck Privates, the Andrews Sisters dance like the Ritz Brothers.
Buck Privates, with Abbott and Costello, featured the Andrews Sisters' best-known song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". This Don Raye-Hughie Prince composition was nominated for Best Song at the 1941 Academy Awards ceremony.
Universal hired the sisters for two more Abbott and Costello comedies, and then promoted them to full-fledged stardom in B musicals. What's Cookin', Private Buckaroo, and Give Out, Sisters(the latter portraying the sisters as old women) were among the team's popular full-length films.
The Andrews Sisters have a specialty number in the all-star revue Hollywood Canteen (1944). They can be seen singing "You Don't Have to Know the Language" with Bing Crosby in Paramount'sRoad to Rio with Bob Hope, that year's highest-grossing movie. Their singing voices are heard in two full-length Walt Disney features ("Make Mine Music" which featured Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet, and "Melody Time", which introduced Little Toot, both of which are available on DVD today).
Stage and radio shows
The Andrews Sisters were the most sought-after entertainment property in theater shows worldwide during the 1940s and early 1950s, always topping previous house averages. The trio headlined at the London Palladium in 1948 and 1951 to sold-out crowds. They hosted their own radio shows for ABC and CBS from 1944–1951, singing specially-written commercial jingles for such products as Wrigley's chewing gum, Dole pineapples, Nash motor cars, Kelvinator home appliances, Campbell's soups, and Franco-American food products.
They recorded 47 songs with crooner Bing Crosby, 23 of which charted on Billboard, thus making the team one of the most successful pairings of acts in a recording studio in show businesshistory. Their million-sellers with Crosby included "Pistol Packin' Mama", "Don't Fence Me In", "South America, Take It Away", and "Jingle Bells", among other yuletide favorites.
The sisters' popularity was such that after the war they discovered some of their records had actually been smuggled into Germany after the labels had been changed to read "Hitler's Marching Songs". Their recording of Bei Mir Bist Du Schön became a favorite of the Nazis, until it was discovered that the song's composers were of Jewish descent. Still, it did not stop concentration campinmates from secretly singing it, this is most likely since the song was originally a Yiddish song "Bei Mir Bistu Shein", and had been popularized within the Jewish community before it was recorded as a more successful "cover" version by the Andrews sisters.
Along with Bing Crosby, separately and jointly, The Andrews Sisters were among the performers who incorporated ethnic music styles into America's Hit Parade, popularizing or enhancing the popularity of songs with melodies originating in Brazil, Czechoslovakia, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Trinidad, many of which their manager chose for them.
The Andrews Sisters became the most popular female vocal group of the first half of the 20th century.
- between 75-100 million records sold from a little over 600 recorded tunes
- 113 charted Billboard hits, 46 reaching Top 10 status (more than Elvis Presley or The Beatles)
- 17 Hollywood films (more than any other singing group in motion picture history)
- record-breaking theater and cabaret runs all across America and Europe;
- countless appearances on radio shows from 1935 to 1960 (including their own)
- guest spots on every major television show of the 1950s and 1960s, including those hosted by Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, Art Linkletter and Jimmy Dean.
Early comparative female close harmony trios were the Boswell Sisters, the Pickens Sisters, and the Three X Sisters.