Patty Andrews, the last surviving Andrews Sister, passed last Wednesday, January 30th. The Andrews Sisters were part of the cultural fabric of wartime America. Their image and sound are instantly recognizable to anyone from the “greatest” generation; they’re true icons of The Swing Era. From Wikipedia: “Until the advent of The Supremes, the sisters were the most imitated of all female singing groups and influenced many artists… 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.”
Growing up, the sisters’ strongest influence was the Boswell Sisters, who also inspired a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald. Like other “sisters” vocal groups, their phrasing was uncannily tight, and their harmonies flowed organically without written parts. Patty was melody singer and baby of the group, as well as the “personality” whose mugging and clowning gave the group visual interest.
Their first hit, 1937’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” along with their Greek-Norwegian parentage, helped stamp them as ethnic yet hep, a perfect persona for that egalitarian age. Their best-known recording, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” exploited two waves of pop culture – the boogie woogie craze (boogie woogie is the grandfather of rock & roll) and enthusiasm for the fun of army life (a useful if questionable message). The most enduring image of the Andrews Sisters is of them uniformed as WACs, singing “Bugle Boy” while dancing oh-so-stiffly in the 1941 movie “Buck Privates.”
World War II was the Andrews Sisters’ zenith, but they kept on performing and recording until 1951, when Patty quit to launch a solo career. Maxene apparently attempted suicide in 1954. The trio reunited in 1956, often re-casting their wartime hits with 50s musical backdrops. The end came when LaVerne passed in 1967.
In memory of the Andrews Sisters and Patty Andrews, our own YazooZazz Vocal Trio (Robin, Betsy, and Jeanette) will perform a sampler of their swingin’est hits at Glen Echo later this month, as part of TCO’s 4th Saturday Swing Dance Series. I’m pleased to announce that in cooperation with the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture, Inc., the National Park Service and Montgomery County, MD, we will present on Saturday evening, February 23rd, in Glen Echo Park’s historic Spanish Ballroom “The Swingin’ Andrews Sisters.” TCO, along with singers Robin Cunningham, Betsy Kipperman, Jeanette DuBois, and Andre Enceneat, will present a night of swingin’ and evocative music highlighting The Andrews Sisters, so be there or be square.