Thursday, January 3, 2019
Enjoy the Andrews Sisters
The Andrews Sisters were an American close harmony singing group of the swing and boogie-woogie eras. The three sisters were: LaVerne (July 6, 1911 – May 8, 1967), Maxene (January 3, 1916 – October 21, 1995) and Patty (February 16, 1918 – January 30, 2013).
The sisters were born to a Greek father, Peter Andreos (anglicized to "Andrews" upon arriving in the US) and their mother, Olga, was a Norwegian-American of the Lutheran faith.
Patty, the youngest and the lead singer of the group, was 7 when the group was formed, and 12 when they won first prize at a talent contest in Minneapolis, 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. They started their career as imitators of an earlier successful singing group, the Boswell Sisters, who were popular in the 1930s.
After singing with various dance bands and touring in they first came to national attention with their recordings and radio broadcasts in 1937. 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.
In the years just before and during World War II, the Andrews Sisters were at the height of their popularity, and the group still tends to be associated in the public's mind with the war years. They had numerous hit records during these years, both on their own and in collaboration with Bing Crosby. Their 1941 hit Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy can be considered an early example of rhythm and blues and their harmonies and songs are still influential today and have been copied and recorded by entertainers such as Bette Midler, Christina Aguilera, Pentatonix, and others.
During the war, they entertained the Allied forces extensively in Africa, and Italy, as well as in the U.S., 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 retreat for servicemen where the trio often performed, volunteering their personal time to sing and dance for the 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.
The sisters' 1945 hit "Rum and Coca Cola" became one of their most popular and best-known recordings, but also inspired some controversy. Some radio stations were reluctant to play the record because it mentioned a commercial product by name, and because the lyrics were subtly suggestive of local women prostituting themselves to U.S. servicemen serving at the then naval base on Trinidad. The song was based on a Trinidadian calypso, and a dispute over its provenance led to a well-publicized court case. The sisters later told biographers that they were asked to record the tune on short notice and were unaware either of the copyright issue or of the implications of the lyrics.
In the 1950s, Patty decided to break away from the act to be a soloist. She had married the trio's pianist, Walter Weschler, who became the group's manager and demanded more money for Patty. 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 sued 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 the hospital after swallowing 18 sleeping pills; LaVerne told reporters was an accident.
Maxene and LaVerne appeared together on The Red Skelton Show on October 26, 1954 singing the humorous "Why Do They Give The Solos To Patty" as well as lip-synching "Beer Barrel Polka" with Skelton in drag filling in for Patty. This did not sit well with Patty and a cease and desist order was sent to Skelton.
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 and signed a new recording deal with Capitol Records, for whom Patty was already a featured soloist. By this point however, rock-and-roll and doo-wop were dominating.
The sisters recorded a dozen singles through 1959, some of which attempted to keep up with the times by incorporating rock sounds, but none of them achieved any major success.
Eldest sister LaVerne died in 1967 at the age of 55 after a year-long bout with cancer during which she was replaced by singer Joyce DeYoung (May 24, 1926 - March 7, 2014). After LaVerne died, Maxene and Patty continued to perform periodically until 1968, when she became the Dean of Women at Tahoe Paradise College, teaching acting, drama and speech and working with troubled teens. Patty was once again eager to be a soloist and in 1969, she appeared in Lucille Ball's third series Here's Lucy.
Patty and Maxene's careers experienced a resurgence when Bette Midler covered "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in 1973. The next year, the pair debuted on Broadway in a nostalgic World War II musical titled Over Here! It lasted only a year, and was the last time the sisters would ever sing together.
Patty continually distanced herself from Maxene, until her death, and would not explain her motives regarding the separation. Maxene appealed to Patty for a reunion, 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 did visit her sister while she was hospitalized.
Patty made a comeback 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. Patty started her own solo act in 1980, but did not receive the critical acclaim her sister had for her performances, even though Patty 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 an expressive and bluesy vocalist to shine through.
The two sisters did reunite briefly on October 1, 1987, when they received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Except for a few brief private encounters, they remained somewhat estranged for the last few years.
Maxene suffered another heart attack and died at Cape Cod Hospital on October 21, 1995, making Patty the last surviving Andrews Sister. Upon hearing the news of her sister's death, Patty became very distraught. Several days later, her husband Wally fell down a flight of stairs and broke both wrists. Patty did not attend her sister's memorial services in New York City, nor in California.
The ashes of LaVerne and Maxene are interred in the Columbarium of Memory of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California close to the ashes of their parents. Patty died of natural causes at her home in Northridge, California, on January 30, 2013, at the age of 94.