The Boswell Sisters vs. The Andrews Sisters
Last blog, we took a long, almost invasive and menacing look at one of my favorite harmonizing groups, The Ravens. This time, let’s meditate on two groups and the epic chaos that emerged from their earth-shattering battle for supremacy. Yes, we’re going to focus on the blood-thirsty Boswell Sisters and those daughters of doomsday, The Andrews Sisters. (This blog is not for the squeamish and will include death, destruction, and delightfully catchy melodies.)
Many people are already familiar with The Andrews Sisters, and because you, dear reader, are a person, I am including you in this assessment. What these same many people often don’t realize is that The Andrews Sisters actually based their act on another trio of singing siblings, The Boswell Sisters.
The Boswell Sisters were born in the first decade of the twentieth century and, in a show of musical savvy, they chose to be raised in New Orleans, the American music Mecca. By their teens, Martha, Connee, and Helvetia (they were given individual names to make communication in the house more efficient) began singing in movie theatres and on local radio shows, cultivating small celebrity and earning free popcorn.
By the early 1930’s their desire for greater success, along with Helvetia’s having developed a corn allergy, led them to move to New York City. They recorded some records and integrated themselves in the thriving jazz scene. Middle-child Connee proved herself to be a deft and original arranger of music and, against the common practice of the day, was allowed greater freedom to change the standards she and her sisters sang. This earned her respect among her musical peers, even though some choices Connee made were less popular than others. (For example, their 1931 recording of I Thank You, Mr. Moon, in which Connee changed the key of the melody and re-wrote the words as I Will Slit Your Shaking Throat and Drink Your Hot Gushing Blood, Mr. Moon - it was subsequently changed back to the original lyrics.)
The sisters, and Connee in particular, proved to be not only popular, but highly influential. Many copycat groups of harmonizing sisters were formed, and artists such as Ella Fitzgerald cited the Boswells as an inspiration.
The sisters broke-up in 1936 after heated disagreements over who “mom always sides with” and “who always borrows stuff from my closet and stretches them out even after I told her she couldn’t.”
"I can't wait to eventually sign and fold this!"
Connee’s career continued to flourish. While she had attained fame, many of her fans were unaware that she was wheelchair bound, as publicists felt the image of a "girl in a wheelchair" was too depressing for the 1930's public, who were instead cheered and entertained by photos of haggard, homeless farmer mothers in search of food for their children. Connee told the press her condition was due to a childhood accident when she was climbing down an old, rotting ladder supported on rickety wood planks and a German U-boat fell onto her pelvis. In actuality, Connee was not handicapped at all, merely stubborn – her father once forbade her from “leaving her seat” until she “finished eating her collard greens” and, rather than taste another bite, Connee adapted her chair for movement.
It’s rumored that the newly emerging Andrews Sisters, desperately desiring the fame of their idols, hatched a plan to have the unwitting trio dressed in bomb costumes and dropped on Nazi forces in occupied Norway, and while there is no evidence whatsoever to support this, for the sake of keeping this article brief and interesting, we’ll assume it’s so. (To this day, school-children in Norway enjoy a game at recess called Finne Boswell Bein, in which one child hides white-painted sticks which the other kids hunt to exchange for prizes of yarn, hunks of preserved salmon, or whatever it is that Norwegian kids are into.)
"Jeg elsker å bruke Google oversette funksjonen!"
In my next entry, I’ll tell you what ghoulish horrors the charming Sisters of Swing got up to, and how their tactics led to an all-out blood-war between them and the Boswell faction. In the meantime, please enjoy these delightful ditties…