THE ANDREWS SISTERS
The Story of The Andrews Sisters
The Andrews Sisters were a prolific and hugely successful close harmony singing group of the swing and boogie-woogie eras, consisting of three actual sisters: LaVerne, Maxene and Patty – Laverne Sophia, contralto and redhead (July 6, 1911 – May 8, 1967); Maxene Angelyn, soprano and brunette (January 3, 1916 – October 21, 1995); and Patricia Marie "Patty" Andrews, mezzo-soprano, lead singer, and blonde (born February 16, 1918). Their harmonies and songs are still influential today, and have been covered by entertainers such as Bette Midler, the Puppini Sisters and Christina Aguilera. Throughout their long career, the sisters sold well over 75 million records (the last official count released by MCA Records in the mid-1970s). The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. Their hit "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" can be considered an early example of rhythm and blues or jump blues.
In 2008 and 2009 the BBC produced a one-hour show on the history of the Andrews Sisters from their upbringing in Mound, Minnesota, to the present. The American premier of the show was June 21, 2009, in Mound. 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 around the sisters' careers. The Westonka Historical Society has a large collection of Andrews Sisters memorabilia.
Click Title below for Andrews Sister Video and song
The Andrews Sisters.
The sisters were born in Minnesota to a Greek immigrant father and a Norwegian American mother, Olga "Ollie" (née Sollie) Andrews (1886–1948) and Peter Andreas, who took the name of Andrews (1884–1949).
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 in Minneapolis, where LaVerne played piano accompaniment for the silent film showings in exchange for free dancing lessons for herself and her sisters. Once the sisters found fame and settled in California, their parents lived with them in a Brentwood estate in Los Angeles until their deaths. Several cousins from Minnesota followed them west. The sisters returned to Minneapolis at least once a year to visit family and friends and/or to perform.
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 1940.
One of their hit songs, "Civilization (Bongo Bongo Bongo)" was featured in the hit vidoegame Fallout3 by Bethesda Studios.
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 actors Bette Davis and John Garfield found California's famous Hollywood Canteen, a welcome retreat for servicemen where the trio often performed, volunteering their personal time to sing for and dance with soldiers, sailors and Marines (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." Perhaps only Bob Hope and his troupe did more to entertain the troops.
The Andrews Sisters broke up in 1953, the main catalyst being Patty's decision to go solo, with her husband acting as her agent. 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, 1954  put a halt to any further tours (Maxene spent a short time in hospital after swallowing 18 sleeping pills, an occurrence that LaVerne told reporters was an accident).
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 over five years, 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.
The act came to an abrupt end in 1967 when eldest sister LaVerne died of cancer 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. Once LaVerne was dead, Maxene saw no need to continue as a duo (she taught acting, drama, and speech at a Lake Tahoe college and worked with troubled teens), and Patty was once again eager to be a soloist.
Both surviving sisters had something of a comeback when Bette Midler recorded her own version of their song "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in 1972. Their most notable comeback, however, was in the Sherman Brothers' nostalgic World War II musical: "Over Here!" which premiered on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre in 1974 to rave reviews. This was a follow-up to Patty's success in "Victory Canteen" a 1971 California revue. The musical 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 (John Travolta, Marilu Henner, Treat Williams, Ann Reinking, et al.). 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 for the company, including the sisters.
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 very 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 famous Walk of Fame, even singing a few bars of "Beer Barrel Polka" for the Entertainment Tonight cameras. Ironically, an earthquake shook the area that very morning and the ceremony was nearly canceled, 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 I on the telephone." Both sisters laughed and shared a hug. 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. 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 to 1951 as well as being Maxene's husband from 1941–1949, and both Jack Kapp (d. 1949) and his brother David Kapp, who founded Decca Records.
Patty Andrews married agent Marty Melcher in 1947, and left him in 1949 when he pursued a romantic relationship with Doris Day (at the time of his death, Melcher left Day in millions of dollars of debt after mismanaging her money for years, unbeknownst to Doris). Patty then married Walter Weschler, the trio's pianist, in 1951. 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, 5 days after Maxene and 5 days before Lou Levy). LaVerne and Maxene Andrews are interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California with their parents, and room remains in the crypt for Patty if she chooses that as her final resting place.
At age 92, Patty Andrews lives quietly in Northridge, California. Wally, her husband of over 55 years, passed away on August 26, 2010 at the age of 88. In interviews, when granted, she rarely speaks personally of her sisters. When asked about their legendary feuding, she jokes about it and quickly moves on to the next topic.
The Andrews Sisters' recording of "Don't Sit under the Apple Tree" was sampled in Soul Coughing's song "Down to This" off their album Ruby Vroom. 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 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, Just Shoot Me, Mama's Family, War and Remembrance, Jakob the Liar, Lolita, The Polar Express, The Chronicles of Narnia, 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 as Everybody 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, Civilization (with Danny Kaye) was included in the 1940s-50s Atomic Age-inspired video game Fallout 3.
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 disco hits. The trio has said their name is a tribute to The Andrews Sisters. Singer/songwriter Keri Hilson also pays a small tribute to the Andrews Sisters in her music video for the song "Pretty Girl Rock"(released as a single in 2010). In the video Keri portrays many famous historic women from the music industry including Patty Andrews as a member of the Andrews Sisters in the 1950s.
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), as well as 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.
Maxene, Patty, and LaVerne appeared in 15 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. In 2001, the song was voted #6 on a list of 365 entries for Songs of the Century, having also returned to popularity via a 1973 rendition by Bette Midler.
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 ladies) 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's Road 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. Blonde Patty, brunette Maxene and redhead LaVerne 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 business history. 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 camp inmates 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 best-selling female vocal group in the history of popular music, setting records that remain unsurpassed to this day:
- 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.