The Andrews Sisters
were a close harmony
singing group, consisting of sisters LaVerne Sophie Andrews (contralto
; July 6
), Maxene Angelyn Andrews (soprano
; January 3
), and Patricia Marie (a.k.a. Patty) Andrews (mezzo-soprano
; lead; born February 16
). All were born in Minnesota
to a Greek
immigrant father and a Norwegian American
Patty, the youngest and the lead singer
of the group, was only seven when the group was formed, and just twelve years old when they won first prize at a talent contest at the local Orpheum Theatre
, 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 until their deaths, and several cousins from Minnesota
followed them west. The sisters returned to Minneapolis at least once a year to visit family and friends and/or 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 comic bandleader Larry Rich (also known as Dick Rich)[Dick Rich was actually one of Larry's younger brothers], Ted Mack, and Leon Belasco, 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), an originally Yiddish tune the lyrics of which Sammy Cahn translated to English and the girls harmonized to perfection. It sold a million copies, making them the first female vocal group to achieve a Gold Record award. They followed this success with a string of best-selling records over the next two years and they became a household name by 1940.
Record setting hits
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.
Some of the trio's best-remembered and most popular hits were:
- Bei Mir Bist Du Schön
- "Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out the Barrel)",
- "Hold Tight-Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood, Mama?)",
- "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar",
- "I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time",
- "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Of Company B)",
- "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)",
- "Pistol Packin' Mama" (w/ Bing Crosby),
- "Jingle Bells" (w/ Bing Crosby),
- "Rum and Coca-Cola"
- "Don't Fence Me In" (w/ Bing Crosby),
- "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" (w/ Bing Crosby),
- "South America, Take It Away" (w/ Bing Crosby)",
- "Cuanto La Gusta" (w/ Carmen Miranda),
- "Blue Tail Fly (Jimmy Crack Corn)" (w/ Burl Ives),
- "Christmas Island" & "Winter Wonderland" (both with Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians),
- "Near You",
- "Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)" (w/ Danny Kaye),
- "Rumors Are Flying" (w/ Les Paul),
- "I Can Dream, Can't I?" and "I Wanna Be Loved" (both w/Gordon Jenkins' orchestra & chorus, and both featuring extended solos by Patty).
World War II
During World War II
, they entertained the Allied
forces extensively in America
, Africa and Italy
, visiting Army
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
'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
(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", & "G.I.
Journal." Perhaps only Bob Hope
and his troupe did more to entertain the troops.
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.
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 Israel, Italy, Spain, France, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, and Trinidad, many of which their manager chose for them.
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.
Universal hired the sisters for two more Abbott & 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 & 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
from 1944-1951, singing specially-written commercial jingles for such products as Wrigley's chewing gum
motor cars, Kelvinator
home appliances, Campbell's
soups, and Franco-American
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 also 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."
While the sisters specialized in swing
, and novelty hits with their trademark lightning-quick vocal syncopations, they also produced major hits in jazz
, 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
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 & LaVerne learned of Patty's decision from newspaper gossip columns
rather than their own sister, it caused a rather 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 hospitalized after swallowing 18 sleeping pills, which LaVerne told reporters was an accident).
When all was forgiven and the trio reunited in 1956, they signed a new recording contract with Capitol Records (for which Patty had become a featured soloist) and they 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 she was gone, 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 Theater
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 debuted 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 it was really Maxene and I on the telephone." Both sisters laughed and shared a hug. Other than this encounter, they remained estranged for a total of 20 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." It was also reported that Maxene was estranged from her two adopted children, Aleda Ann & Peter, at the time of her death. 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 sisters' 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."
Instrumental to the sisters' success over the years were their parents, Olga
(d. 1948) and Peter
(d. 1949); their orchestra leader and musical arranger Vic Schoen
(d. 2000); music publishing giant Lou Levy
(who passed away only days after Maxene), their manager from 1937 to 1951 as well as Maxene's husband from 1941-1949, ; and both Jack
& 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 in 1951, the trio's pianist. LaVerne married Lou Rogers (who died days after Lou Levy in 1995) in 1948, a trumpet player in Vic Schoen's band, and remained with him until her death.
Throughout their long career, the sisters had sold over well over 75 million records (that being 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.
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.
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 & Mary Ford, The Four Freshmen, The McGuire Sisters, The Lennon Sisters, The Pointer Sisters, The Manhattan Transfer, 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 & 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. Recently their version of Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen was included in the game BioShock, a first-person shooter that takes place in 1960.
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.
At age 90, Patty Andrews remains a recluse in Northridge, California, together with Wally, her husband of over 55 years. In interviews, when granted, she rarely speaks personally of her sisters. When asked about their legendary feuding, she jokes about it and quickly moves onto the next topic.
Highest chart positions on Billboard;
with Vic Schoen & his orchestra, unless otherwise noted:
- Bei mir bist Du schön (recorded November 24, 1937) (#1 for 5 weeks)
- "Hold Tight, Hold Tight (Want Some Sea Food, Mama?)" (recorded November 21, 1938) (#2)
- "Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out the Barrel)" (recorded May 3, 1939) (#4)
- "Well All Right! (Tonight's the Night)" (recorded May 3, 1939) (#5)
- "Yodelin' Jive" (recorded with Bing Crosby on September 20, 1939) (#4)
- "Say Si Si (Para Vigo Me Voy)" (recorded February 7, 1940) (#4)
- "Ferryboat Serenade (La Piccinina)" (recorded July 15, 1940) (#1 for 3 weeks)
- "Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar" (recorded August 28, 1940) (#2)
- "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time" (recorded November 14, 1940) (#5)
- "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (recorded January 2, 1941) (#6)
- "The Shrine of St. Cecilia" (recorded November 15, 1941) (#3)
- '"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)" (recorded April 4, 1942) (#16)
- "Pistol Packin' Mama" (recorded with Bing Crosby on September 27, 1943) (#2)
- "Victory Polka" (recorded with Bing Crosby on September 27, 1943) (#5)
- "Jingle Bells" (recorded with Bing Crosby on September 29, 1943) (1943: #19 & 1947: #21)
- "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (recorded with Bing Crosby on September 29, 1943) (#22)
- "Shoo Shoo Baby" (recorded October 13, 1943) (#1 for 9 weeks)
- "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby?)" (recorded with Bing Crosby on June 30, 1944) (#2)
- "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marching In)" (recorded with Bing Crosby on June 30, 1944) (#1 for 6 weeks)
- "Don't Fence Me In" (recorded with Bing Crosby on July 25, 1944) (#1 for 8 weeks)
- "Rum and Coca-Cola" (recorded October 18, 1944) (#1 for 10 weeks)
- "Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive" (recorded with Bing Crosby on December 8, 1944) (#2)
- "Along The Navajo Trail" (recorded with Bing Crosby on June 29, 1945) (#2)
- "South America, Take It Away" (recorded with Bing Crosby on May 10, 1946) (#2)
- "Rumors Are Flying" (recorded with Les Paul on guitar on July 22, 1946) (#4)
- "Near You" (recorded August 4, 1947) (#2)
- "Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)" (recorded with Danny Kaye on September 27, 1947) (#3)
- "Toolie Oolie Doolie (The Yodel Polka)" (recorded December 19, 1947) (#3)
- "Underneath the Arches" (recorded in London with Billy Ternant & his orchestra on July 26, 1948) (#5)
- "I Can Dream, Can't I?" (recorded with Gordon Jenkins & his orchestra & chorus on July 15, 1949) (#1 for 5 weeks)
- "I Wanna Be Loved" (recorded with Gordon Jenkins & his orchestra & chorus on March 30, 1950) (#1 for 2 weeks)
Highest chart positions on Billboard;
with Vic Schoen & his orchestra, unless otherwise noted:
- Argentine Nights (Universal Pictures, 1940)
- Buck Privates (Universal Pictures, 1941)
- In the Navy (Universal Pictures, 1941)
- Hold That Ghost (Universal Pictures, 1941)
- What's Cookin'? (Universal Pictures, 1942)
- Private Buckaroo (Universal Pictures, 1942)
- Give Out, Sisters (Universal Pictures, 1942)
- How's About It (Universal Pictures, 1943)
- Always a Bridesmaid (Universal Pictures, 1943)
- Swingtime Johnny (Universal Pictures, 1943)
- Moonlight and Cactus (Universal Pictures, 1944)
- Follow the Boys (Universal Pictures, 1944)
- Hollywood Canteen (Warner Brothers, 1944)
- Her Lucky Night (Universal Pictures, 1945)
- Make Mine Music (Walt Disney Studios, 1946)
- Road to Rio (Paramount Pictures, 1947)
- Melody Time (Walt Disney Studios, 1948)
- Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (1975)
- Breach (background music) (2007)
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Oh Johnny Oh, Johnny Oh!) (2005)
- Over Here! (1974; Shubert Theater, New York City, 9 months)
They were parodied on "Sesame Street" as the Androoze Sisters, named Mayeeme (Audrey Smith), Pattiz (Maeretha Stewart), and Lavoorrnee (Kevin Clash).
List of best-selling music artists
3. Nimmo, H. Arlo. The Andrews Sisters. Jefferson: McFarland & Co, Inc., 2004.
4. Sforza, John. Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000.