The Andrews Sisters - Biography
By J Poet
The Andrews Sisters are probably the most popular and best selling all-female vocal group in American pop music history. They sold over 90 million records, recorded almost 2,000 songs, and earned nine gold records. They were a popular live attraction in the 1930s and 1940s, best known for their tireless efforts to entertain the troops during the dark days of WW II. Their repertoire included pop, swing, boogie-woogie, jazz, and country and western tunes. They were admired recording artists and movie stars, who also performed live, on radio, TV, and Broadway. Their harmonies produced overtones that gave the impression of four voices, allowing them to form complex chords. They were also expert scat singers. They charted 113 Billboard hits, including 46 Top Ten titles, which is more than Elvis or The Beatles ever accomplished. After LaVerne died in 1967, Patty and Maxene had solo careers, and then came back together to star in the show Over Here!, a WWII musical. After the end of its successful two-year run (1974 – 1975), they went back to their solo careers. Maxene died in 1995. Patty is semi-retired, although she occasionally performs on cruise ships.
The Andrews Sisters were born in Minneapolis, Minnesota; LaVerne in 1911, Maxene in 1916, and Patty in 1918. They family loved music and the girls started harmonizing around the piano in the family’s living room when they were children. They honed their vocal chops by imitating people like the Boswell Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Tormé. Patty was only 12 years old when they won a talent contest at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, with LaVerne on piano. Larry Rich hired them to go on tour with his review when Patty was just 14 years of age. After leaving Rich, they kept up a hectic touring schedule playing fairs, vaudeville theaters, and night clubs. Their father often drove them to gigs while they practice harmonies and worked out vocal arrangements during the dive time.
In 1937, they moved to New York City where they met Lou Levy, who became their manager and Maxene's husband. He helped get them a recording deal with Decca where their second 78 RPM single, “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” a rewrite of a popular Yiddish theater song, became a million-seller. It was a number one pop hit in 1938. The Andrews Sisters had their first gold record and the distinction of being the first female group ever to earn one. They followed up with a spate of hits: “Hold Tight, Hold Tight (Want Some Sea Food, Mama?),” which hit number two in 1938; three Top Ten hits in 1939, including “Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out the Barrel),” “Well All Right! (Tonight's the Night),” and “Yodelin' Jive,” with Bing Crosby; and three Top Tens in 1940, “Say Si Si (Para Vigo Me Voy),” “Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” and “Ferryboat Serenade (La Piccinina),” which turned out to be their second number one hit.
By 1940, the Andrews Sisters were the highest paid entertainers in America, making $20,000 a week. They often played dates with Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller’s band, and starred on Miller’s short-lived CBS radio network show. The Chesterfield Broadcasts, Vol. 1 (1998 RCA) collects recordings of the first 13 Miller programs with the Andrews Sisters. They also appeared in 17 movies including Argentine Nights (1940), Buck Privates (1941) – which introduced the Oscar nominated tune “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” to the public, In the Navy (1941), Hold That Ghost (1941), Give Out, Sisters (1942), Always a Bridesmaid (1943), Follow the Boys (1944), and Hollywood Canteen (1944).
They continued having hits on Decca, backed by arranger Vic Schoen and his orchestra. Their signature tune “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” was number six in 1941 and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)” charted in 1942. In 1943, they had "Pistol Packin' Mama" and "Jingle Bells," both collaborations with Bing Crosby that went gold. Also that year, they released "Shoo Shoo Baby," another number one hit. 1944 brought more success with Crosby on "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby?)," the number one hit "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marching In)," and "Don't Fence Me In." They had a number one on their own with "Rum and Coca-Cola," a song written by calypso star Lord Invader. In June of 1945, they embarked on an eight-week USO tour and performed for thousands of servicemen in Africa and Italy. They visited Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases, hospitals, and factories, giving performances to the troops that they still talked about decades later.
Collaborating with Bette Davis and John Garfield, the sisters opened the Hollywood Canteen in 1942. The Hollywood Canteen served as a club for servicemen where A-list entertainers appeared to serenade the troops. They also cut a series of Victory Discs (V-Discs), which were records that were given away free to fighting men in the U.S. and overseas and played on Army radio stations in combat zones. Their V-Discs were so popular that the Sisters were named the Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service. V-Disc Recordings: For Our Armed Forces Overseas (1999 Collector’s Choice) includes 16 selections from the V-Disc sessions.
After the war, the hits kept coming with 1945’s “Along the Navajo Trail” and 1946’s "South America, Take It Away," both recorded with Crosby. In 1947, The Andrews Sisters released “Rumors Are Flying” with Les Paul on guitar, “Near You,” and “Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)” with Danny Kaye. “I Can Dream, Can't I?,” an early Gordon Jenkins production, was number one for five weeks in 1949.
Between 1944 and 1951, the Andrews Sisters hosted their own radio show, but, by 1950, the music business was on the cusp of going entirely in the direction of rock and roll and teenage pop. Patty left the trio to try a solo career. Maxene and LaVerne continued on as a duo, but all three sisters reunited in 1956 and tried a light rock and roll act. Alas, it was not successful.
In 1967, LaVerne learned she had cancer and died a year later. Maxene and Patty stopped performing together and Maxene became Vice-President of Tahoe Paradise College. Patty continued to sing and act, and starred in the Los Angeles production Victory Canteen, a review that features songs written in the style of the 1940’s. In 1974 Maxene and Patty reunited to star in Over Here!, a musical that delved into the problems faced by the families left behind while the men were off fighting WW II. It ran on Broadway for two years.
Maxene and Patty went back to solo careers until 1995, when Maxene died. Maxene made a single solo album during that time, Maxene: An Andrews Sister (1992 DRG). Patty soon retired, but still sings on cruise ships from time to time. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Many Andrews Sisters recordings have never been reissued, but there are worthwhile compilations of their best-known tunes available such as: The Andrews Sisters: Capitol Collectors Series (1991 Capitol), Andrews Sisters - Their All-Time Greatest Hits (1994 MCA), The Best of the Andrews Sisters (1995 MCA), the two-disc set Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters: Their Complete Recordings Together (1996 MCA), Rum & Coca-Cola: Best of the Andrews Sisters (2004 Sony France), and the career spanning 101 track three disc box set The Golden Age of the Andrews Sisters (2004 Jasmine UK).